NASA’s tiny infrared cameras enable new science

A new, high-resolution infrared camera with a variety of lightweight filters can study sunlight reflected from Earth’s upper atmosphere and surface, improve wildfire warnings and reveal the molecular structure of other planets. The cameras use sensitive, high-resolution strained-layer superlattice sensors, initially developed using Internal Research and Development (IRAD) funding at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Their compact construction, low mass and adaptability allow engineers like Tilak Hevagama to adapt to the needs of various sciences. “Connecting the filters directly to the detector eliminates the considerable mass of traditional lens and filter systems,” Hewagama said. “It allows us to create a A low-mass instrument with a small focal plane Infrared detectors can now be cooled using small, efficient coolers. “Small satellites and missions can benefit from its resolution and accuracy.”

Engineer Mursi Jabwala led the initial development of the sensor at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, as well as the ongoing filter integration efforts. Jabwala also led the Compact Thermal Imaging Camera experiment on the International Space Station. New sensor technology could live in space At the same time it turned out to be a great success for earth science. More than 15 million images taken in two infrared bands earned the inventors Jabwala and NASA Goddard colleagues Dan Jennings and Compton Tucker the agency’s 2021 Invention of the Year award.

Test data Provides detailed information on forest firesA better understanding of the vertical structure of Earth’s clouds and atmosphere and captured the upwelling of wind from Earth’s topographic features known as gravity waves.

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Innovative infrared sensors use layers of repeating molecular structures to interact with individual photons, or units of light. The sensors resolve high infrared wavelengths with high resolution: 80 meters per pixel from orbit, compared to 375 to 1,000 meters possible in current thermal cameras.

The success of these thermal imaging cameras has attracted investment NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office (ESTO), small business innovation and research, and other programs to further customize their mission and applications.

Jhabwala and NASA’s Advanced Land Imaging Thermal Infrared Sensor (ALTIRS) team are developing a six-band version for this year’s Airborne Lidar, Hyperspectral and Thermal Imaging (G-LHD) program. The camera, the first of its kind, will measure surface temperatures, monitor pollution and track fires at a high frame rate, he said.

NASA Goddard Earth Scientist Doug Morton leads the ESTO project, which is developing a compact fire imager for wildfire detection and prediction. “We’re not going to see fewer fires, so we’re trying to understand how fires release energy throughout their life cycle,” Morton said. «“This will help us better understand the new nature of fire in an increasingly flammable world.”

CFI monitors both hotter fires, which emit more greenhouse gases, and cooler, hotter coal and ash, which produce more carbon monoxide and airborne particles like smoke and ash. “They are key ingredients for conservation and understanding the greenhouse gases released by burning,” Morton said.

After testing the fire imager on aerial campaigns, Morton’s team expected Equipping a fleet of 10 small satellites To provide global fire information with more images per day. Combined with next-generation computer models, “this information will help the Forest Service and other firefighting agencies prevent fires, improve the safety of frontline firefighters, and protect the lives and property of area residents,” Fire said.

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Equipped with polarizing filters, the sensor can measure how ice particles in clouds in Earth’s upper atmosphere scatter and polarize light, said Tong Wu, NASA’s Goddard Earth scientist.

These applications complement the PACE mission (plankton, aerosol, cloud, ocean ecosystem) from NASA, which revealed its first light images earlier this month, said Wu. Both measure the polarization of the orientation of light waves relative to the direction of travel from different parts of the infrared spectrum.

“PACE polarimeters monitor visible light and short-wave infrared,” he explained. “This mission will focus on aerosol science and ocean color from daytime observations. At mid- and long-infrared wavelengths, the new infrared polarimeter will capture cloud and surface properties from daytime and nighttime observations.

In another effort, Hawagama works with Zapwala and Jennings Combine linear variable filters Provides even more detail within the infrared spectrum. Filters reveal the rotation and vibration of atmospheric molecules and the composition of the Earth’s surface.

That technology could also benefit missions to rocky planets, comets and asteroids, said planetary scientist Gary Anderson. He said they could identify the ice and volatile compounds emitted in giant plumes from Saturn’s moon Enceladus. “They are basically ice geysers, they are certainly cold, but they emit light within the detection limits of the new infrared sensor. Observing the columns against the Sun as a background will allow us to detect their composition and vertical distribution very clearly,” he concluded.

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