Next generation imaging detectors could enhance space missions

November 9, 2006

A new generation of imaging detectors with low-noise and high-speed capabilities may transform imaging applications on NASA space missions, impact biomedical imaging and aid in homeland defense.

Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Rochester recently won $847,000 from NASA's Astronomy Physics Research and Analysis program to build and test a detector that will capture sharper images and consume less power than technology currently in use.

The new imaging sensor, which will function at wavelengths spanning from ultraviolet to mid-infrared, will be able to operate reliably in the harsh radiation environment of space.

"These benefits will lead to lower mission cost and greater scientific productivity," says Donald Figer, director of the Rochester Imaging Detector Laboratory at RIT and lead scientist on the project. The team also includes Zoran Ninkov from RIT and Zeljko Ignjatovic from the University of Rochester.

The new detector is based on a technology created by Ignjatovic and his colleagues at the UR. It will shrink the required hardware on NASA planetary missions from the size of a crate weighing tens of pounds to a tiny thumb-sized chip. It also will enhance images captured by ground telescopes that will rival those from orbiting telescopes, like the Hubble Space Telescope.

Ignjatovic's chip integrates an analog-to-digital converter at each pixel in a sensor. "Previous attempts to do this on-pixel conversion have required far too many transistors, leaving too little area to collect light," says Ignjatovic.

"First tests on the chip show that it uses 50 times less power than the industry's current best, which is especially helpful on deep-space missions where energy is precious."

Despite the chip's low power consumption and sensitivity, it is surprisingly resistant to the radiation noise of space. Since each pixel converts the signal from analog to digital before moving it off-chip, the signal is digital and clear before it has a chance to travel and degrade.

Coatings applied to the light sensitive portion of the sensor will optimize the technology and the ability to detect a range of wavelengths. RIT's Ninkov will explore techniques for bonding the coating to the delicate circuit using industrial microwave ovens. Further testing of the overall system will determine how the sensors hold up in cryogenic environments where the device is cooled to very low temperatures, imitating conditions in space.

In addition to astronomical applications, the detector could improve biomedical imaging devices used in emergency rooms or on battlefields. The technology could aid in homeland security surveillance efforts to watch the nation's borders. Likewise, military applications could adopt the detector for use as airborne or space-based lasers designed to shoot down missiles aimed at the United States.

Figer was recruited by RIT's Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science through a faculty development program grant awarded by the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research (NYSTAR). The grant provides interim state assistance to help attract distinguished faculty throughout the world to New York's academic research centers, and to retain leading researchers already in New York Institutions of Higher Education.

"In the first year of the NYSTAR award, we're landing this anchor project for our program," Figer says. "With this project, we will establish the capability to develop imaging sensors for multidisciplinary applications, an important objective in becoming an internationally leading laboratory, and in leveraging cutting-edge technologies for the benefit of regional industry."

Source: Rochester Institute of Technology

Explore further: How could DSCOVR help in exoplanet hunting?

Related Stories

How could DSCOVR help in exoplanet hunting?

November 24, 2015

Could a space weather satellite be helpful in exoplanet hunting? Well, it now turns out it could. According to a team of scientists led by Stephen Kane from the San Francisco State University, the Deep Space Climate Observatory ...

First evidence of 'ghost particles'

November 3, 2015

An international team of scientists at the MicroBooNE physics experiment in the US, including researchers from the University of Cambridge, detected their first neutrino candidates, which are also known as 'ghost particles'. ...

Calibrating an optical attenuator with few-photon pulses

November 5, 2015

Precise measurements of optical power enable activities from fiber-optic communications to laser manufacturing and biomedical imaging—anything requiring a reliable source of light. This situation calls for light-measuring ...

Recommended for you

NEOWISE identifies greenhouse gases in comets

November 24, 2015

After its launch in 2009, NASA's NEOWISE spacecraft observed 163 comets during the WISE/NEOWISE prime mission. This sample from the space telescope represents the largest infrared survey of comets to date. Data from the survey ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.