Smallest IR Sensor Demostrated



IR Sensor Demonstrated Aboard Small Air Vehicle
The ROVIR, with its 42-in. wingspan, may be the smallest IR-sensor platform ever flown.
(Sanders photo)

Sanders, A Lockheed Martin Company (Nashua, NH), has successfully demonstrated a night-vision, infrared (IR) imaging system aboard a small unmanned air vehicle with a wingspan of only 42 in., a feat which Jack Miller, the company’s program manager for IR sensors, believes marks the “smallest IR airborne platform” ever flown.

The Remote Observation Vehicle Infrared (ROVIR), developed by Sanders and Lockheed Martin Skunk Works (Palmdale, CA), was fitted with a 280-g uncooled microbolometer sensor, manufactured by Sanders’ Infrared Imaging Systems unit (Lexington, MA), according to Margaret Cohen, chief engineer for the program. The ROVIR flew over a scene which a variety of objects, from buildings and cars to people and power lines to demonstrate the feasibility of employing such a vehicle for covert, night-time, close-in reconnaissance and intelligence gathering at altitudes up to about 200 m, as well as to collect performance data for further development of an IR uncooled focal-plane array (FPA). The imagery produced by the ROVIR’s IR sensor and transmitted via UHF was described by Miller as “quite good,” demonstrating the sensor’s ability to recognize objects like those mentioned above.

These tests were conducted as part of the $10-million MicroSTAR program, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (see “US Navy, DARPA Develop IMINT/EW Payloads for Mini-UAVs,” JED, September 1998). This particular portion of the program received approximately $700,000, according to Miller. The goal is to develop an IR sensor that could be fitted aboard a micro air vehicle, such as MicroSTAR, with a wingspan ranging from 6-12 in. MicroSTAR, for instance, Miller said, “could very much benefit from having both an optical and an IR sensor. By beginning with a vehicle with a 42-in. wingspan, Sanders took a “conservative approach to minimize risk” he added. Eventually, however, Sanders hopes to cuts the mass of the IR sensor to about 25 g through integration and reducing the size of electrical and mechanical components, as well as to improve performance of the FPA, Cohen explained. More trials are planned, employing both a smaller air vehicle and a lighter-weight IR sensor. — B. Rivers


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