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RIT imaging scientists play key role in NASA project

Imagine a global satellite system that would detect small forest fires before they spread out of control.

Scientists at RIT's Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science are working to build such a system. The university is teaming up with NASA"s Regional Applications Center Northeast (RACNE) at Cayuga Community College (CCC) in Auburn, N.Y., and Telespazio, an Italian aerospace company that specializes in satellite operations and communications.

In fiscal year 2000, Congress included a $2.3 million appropriation in NASA"s budget to initiate the project. Since then, total funding has reached nearly $5 million. Congressman James Walsh of Syracuse, who chairs the VA/HUD/ Independent Agencies subcommittee, championed the funding.

RIT will develop requirements for the fire-detection instrument for the satellite remote-sensing system during the first phase of the project known as Forest fIRe (infrared) Imaging Experimental System, or "FIRES." RACNE will survey potential users such as local, state and federal agencies.

"RIT"s role is to prove the underlying science and establish the feasibility of a multi-satellite operational system," says Michael Richardson, RIT distinguished researcher and FIRES project manager.

Rep. Walsh foresees future benefits stemming from the collaboration on the FIRES project. "The joint project is challenging research with spin-off technology potential to help keep our young talented graduates in New York state," Walsh says.

John Simmons "91, appropriations associate for Congressman Walsh, was instrumental in bringing about this expansion of RIT"s partnership with NASA. "I am delighted about this new effort between RIT and NASA," he says. "RIT has been doing outstanding work in imaging science and has a long and impressive track record in remote sensing. I see this project as an important contributor to the long and productive relationship between NASA and RIT."

Simmons, who served as president of Student Government while at RIT, also notes that "it feels good to be able to help the institution that helped me get where I am today."