A Wagga-based academic is pushing for the city to become a nationwide leader in space exploration, as part of a plan to use satellite technology in safeguarding against devastating bushfires.
Over the past several years, astronomy expert Dr Graeme White has been working alongside a Queensland-based team in the domestic development of a bushfire early detection program.
"Given the way the bushfires have gone recently, I think there's a unique position for something innovative to be tried," Dr White said.
"It won't change the underpinning process of a warming planet or the severity of droughts. Bushfires will still come and be intense, but we need to change the way we fight the fires, get to them faster and get rid of them before they spread."
Known as 'Fireball' and developed originally for the Californian fire season, the machine learning software can pinpoint the ignition of a fire within minutes.
"We believe it to be the most effective way to fight fires," said University of Queensland academic and team leader Professor Bradley Carter.
"The software learns what to look for in images, and is then able to identify smoke and fires when they begin."
Using specially made camera and computing hardware, known as FUEGO - 'Fire Urgency Estimator in Geosynchronous Orbit' - the system scans the continent for fire activity from the air, the ground, and satellite orbit.
"It can detect a fire within a minute, and actually in one example in America, it found the fire just 66 seconds after it was ignited using a sensors in the air, on a tower and in orbit," Professor Bradley said.
"What that means is that, if you have the resources ready to go, you can put that fire out before it's become a problem. This technology can save lives as well as properties.
"Naturally, we want to be able to deploy this system in Australia before the next fire season."
Using existing telecommunications satellite technology will keep costs down, but since each camera will cost around $30,000, continent-wide coverage will be hard to manage.
To begin trials ahead of the next fire season, Dr White is pushing for significant government investment.
If it were to be trialed in Wagga, Dr White hopes the initiative would prove a springboard to create a space industry in the Riverina.
"It would be a new wing to the economics of Wagga. A high-tech wing alongside the agriculture, the [defence] forces, the university, medicine, and what I call the diesel and transport hub in Bomen," he said.