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US Air Force uses Raytheon tech to peer at Earth from space

Rocket launch

IRISX, an electro-optical instrument placed in geostationary orbit earlier this year, will test new concepts for persistent Earth viewing. (Photo: United Launch Alliance)

Sure, it's tough to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. Imagine what it takes to do it from space.  

The U.S. Air Force Research Lab will use Raytheon’s Infrared Imaging Space Experiment, an electro-optical instrument placed in geostationary orbit, to test new concepts for persistent Earth viewing. IRISX will explore the applicability of advanced imaging and data processing techniques for Department of Defense remote sensing applications. The results will be used to verify, validate and update physics-based phenomenology models and advance the scientific knowledge underlying imaging techniques.

Using a filter mechanism, IRISX captures images of different locations and wavelengths to see how a scene or phenomenology changes over time. This is similar to yet different from hyperspectral technology, which looks at the same image over multiple spectra at one point in time. 

“With persistent surveillance, you don’t necessarily know what you’re looking for until you find it, and IRISX enables that,” said Wallis Laughrey, vice president at Raytheon's Space and Airborne Systems business. “There is nothing like IRISX in space today. We are breaking ground – or rather space – with this program.”

Built in just 29 months for $30 million, IRISX boasts a large diameter aluminum, primary mirror and an all-reflective telescope to see dimmer lights. The IRISX instrument uses a newly developed cutting-edge focal plane array, meaning a sensor with light-receiving pixels at the focal plane of a lens that can take dozens of pictures per second. 

“There’s a fairly common misconception that fast innovation is exclusive to the commercial industry,” said Laughrey. “But it’s our history in space that enables us to respond to market demands quickly."

Last Updated: 08/02/2018