Using the IR sensor in Space

One important application for this sensor is space-based measurements of infrared radiation from planetary surfaces. These applications are usually incompatible with cryogenic fluids or refrigerators, and have generally relied on the use of pyroelectric infrared sensors or thermopile infrared sensors. The Tunneling IR sensor offers better performance, wider temperature range, higher resistance to radiation, and the potential for fabrication of arrays.

Traditionally, NASA has been very conservative about the use of new sensor technologies as primary components on science missions. Therefore, there have not yet been opportunities to test the Tunneling IR sensor on a NASA space platform. Since inclusion in the planning phases of future missions is often contingent on having already flown, opportunities are difficult to earn.

Professor Bob Twiggs joined the Aero/Astro department at Stanford in January of 1994, and has started the Satellite Systems Development Lab(SSDL), in which a team of MS students designs, builds, and prepares to fly a microspacecraft(< 20 kg) each year. The first such flight is planned for 9/95, and will demonstrate a basic bus with full communications capability, a CCD camera, and a voice synthesizer. Early in the spacecraft design, a need for an infrared sensor for Earth horizon detection was identified. Very quickly it was realized that the use of the Tunneling IR sensor would be good for both the spacecraft and the sensor.

Thus, a program has been started where the IR sensors are being packaged with discrete circuitry into modules to be mounted on the satellite. This project has involved a minor redesign of the sensor, investigation of the materials used in sensor assembly, and gathering this into a single, robust package suitable for flight in the Spring. Once aloft, the sensors will measure a signal from the Earth's edge twice a minute in excess of a year. The flight will demonstrate launch survival, radiation immunity, long-term performance in a space environment, and other characteristics of interest to potential users. If successful, these sensors are expected to become primary components on many future student spacecraft, as well as serious candidates for NASA science missions.

John Grade is in the Mechanical Engineering department working towards his doctorate. He took over from Kevin Stattenfield when Kevin graduated from the Aero/Astro department and began working at Lockheed Martin. You can send John email.
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