LWIR is of special interest to NASA for planetary observation missions. The LWIR wavelength region is also an ideal wavelength to look at other planets, or look back at the earth from space, and accurately map minute variations in the surface and/or atmospheric temperatures. Furthermore, by using simultaneous measurements from two different LWIR wavelengths (i.e. a two-color camera) it is possible to better isolate the surface temperature from that of the atmosphere or vice versa. Using the infrared emission of the planetary body or active illumination via a laser source it is also possible to carefully look at the atmospheric absorption and perform chemical spectroscopy. Many molecules such as H2O, CO2, CH4, N2O, CO, NH3 have absorption lines in the infrared and the ability to compositionally map the concentrations of these and many other molecules. The large-format two color cameras we will be developing and delivering in Phase II of this program will be able to provide high resolution mapping of planetary bodies.
IR imaging sensors also find their use in commercial applications such as satellite imaging, weather modelling, geophysics, geology, remote environmental (pollution) IR monitering, law enforcement, search and rescue, firefighting, and emergency response. For its part, the Optoelectronics Industry Development Association estimates that the current infrared imaging market for military and law enforcement applications is about US$3 billion. The development of higher performance LWIR imagers and two color LWIR/LWIR imagers based on Type-II superlattices has the potential to eliminate the n eed for expensive mercury-cadmium-telluride materials and thus the potential to significantly reduce the operational cost of these sensors and thus potentially open up new lower cost commercial applications.