How Can Space Technology Help With Bridge Safety Monitoring?

How Bridge Safety Monitoring is Currently Done

The most common method for monitoring bridges is routine visual inspections. In the United States, the National Bridge Inspection Standards requires that inspections are done once every two years, however many bridges are inspected more frequently.

Trained inspectors look for signs of deterioration, damage, or changes in condition that may indicate a problem. Visual inspections provide a good overall assessment, but are limited in detecting internal issues.

Other techniques used include:

Acoustic sounding: Tapping bridge components with a hammer or chain to listen for changes in sound that may indicate flaws.

Ground penetrating radar (GPR): Uses radar pulses to image the internal structure and detect flaws like delamination or corrosion in concrete.

Corrosion sensors: Metallic or fiber optic sensors permanently installed to monitor areas prone to corrosion.

Strain gauges: Measure strain as loads are applied to detect changes in structural response.

Tiltmeters: Measure tilt and settlement of foundations and piers.

Accelerometers: Measure vibrations to detect changes in dynamic characteristics.

Thermal imaging: Detects subsurface defects based on surface temperature differences.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs): Provide aerial imagery for inspection.

Underwater imaging: Used to inspect underwater bridge components.

Automated monitoring using a network of installed sensors is becoming more common for real-time evaluation. But this requires expertise and expensive installation costs.

Overall, visual inspection remains the primary method for most bridge owners. Advanced methods supplement visuals by probing specific areas of concern.

How Space Technology Can Help

Space technology, especially satellites, can provide valuable data to monitor the health and safety of bridges in several ways:

Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) from satellites can detect movements and deformations of bridges over time. This allows early detection of potential structural issues before they become dangerous. SAR provides wide-area monitoring and can assess networks of bridges simultaneously.

High-resolution optical satellite imagery can provide regular overhead views of bridges to visually inspect for changes. This data can be compared over years to identify shifts in bridge components.

On-site sensors using Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) like GPS can precisely track 3D positional changes of bridges in real-time. This complements SAR displacement data.

Thermal infrared imagery from satellites can indicate subsurface issues like corrosion or deterioration based on surface temperature changes.

Satellite data can be integrated with data from on-site sensors and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to create comprehensive structural health monitoring of bridges.

Satellite communication enables remote transmission of sensor data from bridges for real-time monitoring and alerts.


Satellites provide versatile sensing capabilities at large scales to identify potential bridge issues early. Space technology data enhances traditional inspection methods and enables frequent wide-area monitoring to improve bridge safety. Integrating satellite monitoring with on-site sensors and UAVs offers a comprehensive approach to bridge health management.

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