Technology Today

2011 Issue 2

Airborne Spectral hotometric Environmental Collection Technology Program

Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental

A partnership between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Defense has led to the development of a suite of remote sensing instruments mounted in a small aircraft that can obtain detailed chemical information from a safe distance. Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology (ASPECT) is an emergency response sensor package operated by the EPA. It provides first responders with information on possible chemical releases. The system is capable of accurately detecting and quantifying concentrations of specific chemicals in the air at levels that may present human health threats.

Figure 1

The EPA supports emergency first responders, such as local fire departments and hazardous materials teams, with actionable information in a form that is timely, useful and compatible with existing communication infrastructures. The ASPECT system, a rapid response system with requirements to be airborne in less than one hour, provides airborne chemical measurements and imagery directly to the local incident commander. ASPECT integrates infrared sensors that provide standoff detection sensing of chemical plumes, automated near real-time data processing, aerial photography and data communication via satellite. The image results are overlaid on standard maps and viewed using the Google Earth™ mapping service.

The ASPECT system is an integrated suite of passive remote sensing systems designed to detect, identify and map airborne chemical and nuclear hazards from a lowaltitude manned aircraft (Figure 1). The system provides a regional and national emergency response capability to support on-ground first responders, and it provides on-station support for nationally significant security events.

The system is composed of three primary sensors: an infrared line scanner (IRLS) developed by Raytheon to image gaseous plumes; a highly modified commercial Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectrometer developed by the EPA to identify and quantify the composition of the plume; and a high-performance commercial gammaray spectrometer for radiological detection. In addition to these sensors, several high-resolution color digital cameras provide high-quality context imagery. All data streams are registered to map coordinates using global positioning satellite data.

Figure 2

This uniquely instrumented aircraft, based on the civilian twin turboprop Aerocommander, is used to monitor airborne environment conditions prior to and during significant events. Since 1998, ASPECT has been used by seven of the 10 EPA regions for more than 100 separate response actions, including:

  • Forty-one emergency responses.
  • Seven Department of Homeland Security (DHS) special event activity rating deployments.
  • Nine DHS National Special Security Event deployments.
  • Five Federal Emergency Management Agency activations.
  • Twelve special projects.

These responses include:

  • Monitoring the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.
  • Searching for dangerous rocket fuel and debris during the Columbia shuttle recovery.
  • Assessing and monitoring damage from hurricanes Rita, Katrina and Ike (Figure 2).
  • Performing overhead security for Rose Bowls® 2008–2011, Super Bowl® XLV, and the 2008 presidential inauguration.
  • Monitoring the 2010 gulf oil spill (Figure 3).
  • Monitoring air quality in the vicinity of Los Alamos during the summer 2011 New Mexico wild fires.

Figure 3

At present, the EPA and Raytheon are working together to develop a next-generation IRLS sensor that will significantly increase the system's detection and identification capabilities. This effort has been ongoing since 2006, and fielding is anticipated in 2012.



Randall Zywicki

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