Air Force to test SWIR sensors that see through smoke, haze

Air Force to test SWIR sensors that see through smoke, haze
The Air Force’s Rogue CubeSats satellites were launched aboard the Northrop Grumman Antares rocket to the International Space Station (ISS) on November 2. They will in turn be launched from the ISS next year to test new short-wave infrared (SWIR) sensors. (NASA)

The Air Force’s Rogue CubeSats will launch from the International Space Station in early 2020 to test new short-wave infrared (SWIR) sensors that can see through smoke and haze and process images, according to an article by Theresa Hitchens on the site Breaking Defense.

According to the article, the two satellites carry both visible-light and infrared sensors, as well as a high-speed laser communications downlink. The experiment will reportedly help to establish proof of concept for the new SWIR sensor as a potential capability for future mission applications.

SWIR sensors are unique in that they can see through smoke and haze night and day. They are able to differentiate among types of gas and chemicals on the surface and can also detect invisible laser beams.

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According to the article. SWIR cameras based on Indium Gallium Arsenide (InGaAS) are lightweight and optimal for small satellites. Also, because SWIR is a reflected energy like visible light, it can detect objects at night without additional illumination.

A number of commercial and military applications could utilize SWIR sensors, including LiDAR for autonomous vehicles, Earth imaging and surveillance cameras, telecommunications and weapons guidance, the article said.

In the Air Force mission, Rogue Alpha and Beta, are 3-unit CubeSats (CubeSats are structured as modular cubes) about the size of a shoebox. They were launched to the ISS on Nov. 2 by an upgraded Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems Antares 230+ rocket. Both satellites will subsequently be launched from the ISS into a 500 kilometer orbit and gather images and process experiments for about a year, according to the article quoting an e-mail from SMC’s Development Corps.

The satellites re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere within two to three years to avoid becoming become space debris, the article said.

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