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Michibiki satellite system boosts firefighting efforts in Thailand; Improving communications amid severe air pollution


Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo

The government plans to initiate firefighting support using Japan’s Quasi-Zenith satellite system Michibiki in Thailand, where air pollution from forest fires is severe. Information about forest fires will be sent via satellite to ensure smooth communications, rather than relying solely on potentially unstable mobile phone signals. This approach aims to accelerate firefighting activities to prevent the spread of substances that can cause health damage.

The government has been conducting trials of Michibiki in Sri Lanna National Park, close to Chiang Mai in Thailand, since late 2022. Sensors installed in the park detect smoke and transmit information about the location and size of the fire. This information is sent to a ground station in Japan, then forwarded to Michibiki and finally sent to a special receiver for the smartwatches of fire teams in the national park.

Unlike the American GPS system, Michibiki can send not only location information, but also text messages from space. It orbits over Japan and Southeast Asia, transmitting signals unhindered by mountains or buildings. This allows message delivery even in national parks, where cell phone signal strength is low.

In Thailand, air pollution caused by forest fires and agricultural fires in rural areas, especially in the northern and northeastern regions, has become a major topic of public concern. This pollution results in levels of PM2.5 particles in the air, which are carcinogenic and often exceed safety standards. Air pollution in the region has already caused health problems, including asthma. In March, Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin visited the national park to observe the pilot initiative. The Japanese government would like to further strengthen cooperation with Thailand so that the system can be quickly put into practice.

The Japanese government also hopes that the aid initiative will lead to expanded sales channels for equipment and systems developed by Japanese companies. In the pilot initiative, Sony Group Corp. responsible for the development of smoke detection sensors, while NTT Data Group Corp. builds the information communication system for the fire brigade teams. The government hopes to expand future business opportunities for Japanese companies throughout Thailand and other countries.

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