Satellite-based radar could spot faulty bridges from space

Researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, and the University of Bath are developing a technique that uses satellite radar imaging to monitor the safety of bridges and other large-scale infrastructure. Using 15 years of orbital radar images of the Morandi Bridge, the researchers were able to detect signs of warping that preceded its collapse in 2018.

On August 14, 2018 at 09:36 GMT, a 690-ft (210-m) section of the Morandi Bridge that linked the Sampierdarena and Cornigliano districts in Genoa, Italy, collapsed during a torrential rainstorm, sending about 35 cars and three trucks plunging down into the Polcevera river, killing 43 people.

The cause of the collapse isn't entirely clear, but it appears that four of the bridge stays had corroded through and failed explosively, possibly set off by a lightning strike. Like many such structural accidents, it came as an almost complete surprise and sparked a political scandal about the state of infrastructure in Europe. However, the new study indicates that the signs of impending collapse were there, if it had been possible to see them beforehand...

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