Exelis tests versatile new airborne sensor for explosives and dangerous chemicals
By David Szondy
May 18, 2014
Hyperspectral imaging is a bit like super-vision. With it, you can not only see what’s there, but what it’s made of, which is a good thing if you’re looking for bombs, gas leaks, and smuggled nuclear material. Defense and information systems specialist Exelis has announced the successful test of a new airborne long-wave infrared (LWIR), hyperspectral (HSI) sensor that can be aimed in multiple directions and is capable of detecting explosives, gases and dangerous chemicals.
Hyperspectral imaging is an extremely helpful tool for both commercial and military applications, but current equipment has its limitations. One of the big challenges is that the equipment needs to be cooled many degrees below freezing to work with any degree of accuracy across a broad range of the electromagnetic spectrum.
“We were able to overcome significant cooling requirements to ensure the sensor could collect usable data,” says Dr. Minda Suchan, director of material identification at Exelis. “This opens up new uses for LWIR HSI systems, such as looking into denied areas, from high-altitude aircraft. The LWIR HSI sensor development, along with real-time analytical processing, solves customer-identified hard problems and is a key part of the company’s strategic focus on intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and analytics.”
Conventional HSI sensors need to be mounted on aircraft, so they can fly directly over the target to get a proper image. According to Exelis, the new system can operate at multiple angles, so it can be mounted on gimbals and fly to one side of the target from high up to near the horizon, which is a clear asset for surveillance and watching a target that can shoot back.
They system’s onboard computers can fit in any medium to large manned or unmanned aircraft, so the integrated sensor and processing system can provide real-time information about the composition of gases and solids. This is especially important for detecting gases leaked by improvised explosives or from gas lines or containers, as well as any number of other applications in the military, and in the nuclear and chemical industries.
Exelis says that the test of its new sensor system involved placing various substances and minerals in the vicinity of Rochester, New York, with data being collected for later processing on the ground. In a real situation, however, the data would be processed in real time as the aircraft flew over the area. The company says that further tests are planned.