23 September 2014 Uncooled emissive infrared imagers for CubeSats
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Abstract
Raytheon’s fourth generation uncooled microbolometer array technology with digital output, High Definition (HD) 1920 × 1200 format and 12 μm cell size enables uncooled thermal infrared (TIR) multispectral imagers with the sensitivity and spatial sampling needed for a variety of Earth observation missions in LEO, GEO and HEO. A powerful combination of small detector cell size, fast optics and high sensitivity achieved without cryogenic cooling leads to instruments that are much smaller than current TIR systems, while still offering the capability to meet challenging measurement requirements for Earth observation missions. To consider how this technology could be implemented for Earth observation missions, we extend our previous studies with visible wavelength CubeSat imagers for environmental observations from LEO and examine whether small thermal infrared imagers based on fourth generation uncooled technology could be made small enough to fit onboard a 3U CubeSat and still meet challenging requirements for legacy missions. We found that moderate spatial resolution (~200 m) high sensitivity cloud and surface temperature observations meeting legacy MODIS/VIIRS requirements could be collected successfully with CubeSat-sized imagers but that multiple imagers are needed to cover the full swath for these missions. Higher spatial resolution land imagers are more challenging to fit into the CubeSat form factor, but it may be possible to do so for systems that require roughly 100 m spatial resolution. Regardless of whether it can fit into a CubeSat or not, uncooled land imagers meeting candidate TIR requirements can be implemented with a much smaller instrument than previous imagers. Even though this technology appears to be very promising, more work is needed to qualify this newly available uncooled infrared technology for use in space. If these new devices prove to be as space worthy as the first generation arrays that Raytheon qualified and built into the THEMIS imager still operating successfully onboard Mars Odyssey 2001, new classes of low cost, uncooled TIR Earth instruments will be enabled that are suitable for use as primary and hosted payloads in LEO, GEO and HEO or in constellations of small satellites as small as CubeSats to support Earth science measurement objectives in weather forecasting, land imaging and climate variability and change.
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Jeffery J. Puschell, Paolo Masini, "Uncooled emissive infrared imagers for CubeSats", Proc. SPIE 9223, Remote Sensing System Engineering V, 922307 (23 September 2014); doi: 10.1117/12.2064910; https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2064910
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