Michibiki Satellite System Bolsters Firefighting Efforts in Thailand; Enhancing Communication Amid Severe Air Pollution

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

The government is set 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 transmitted via satellite to ensure smooth communication, rather than solely relying on potentially unstable mobile phone signals. This approach aims to speed up firefighting activities to prevent the spread of substances that can cause health damage.

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

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

In Thailand, air pollution caused by wildfires and agricultural burning in rural areas, particularly in the northern and northeastern regions, has become a significant issue of public concern. This pollution results in levels of airborne PM2.5 particles, which are carcinogenic, often exceeding safety standards. Air pollution in the region has already caused health issues, including asthma. In March, Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin visited the national park to observe the pilot initiative. The Japanese government is keen to further enhance cooperation with Thailand to lead to rapid practical application of the system.

The Japanese government also hopes that the support initiative will lead to expanded sales channels for equipment and systems developed by Japanese companies. In the trial initiative, Sony Group Corp. is responsible for developing smoke-detection sensors, while NTT Data Group Corp. is building the information communication system for the firefighting teams. The government hopes to expand future business opportunities for Japanese companies throughout Thailand and in other countries.