Optical EngineeringSpace-based hyperspectral technologies for the thermal infrared
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Various approaches now exist for obtaining spectral imagery over a broad range of infrared wavelengths. One approach involves the use of a single grating element in two grating orders with dualband focal plane array (FPA) technology. This approach offers greater efficiency over the mid-wave infrared and long-wave infrared and eliminates the need for separate FPAs, dispersing elements, and optical beamsplitters. Another approach achieves similar results by exploiting an FPA which has a broad wavelength response with an innovative grating which has useable efficiency that extends beyond the single octave limits of traditional gratings. Significant advantages result, in either case, for space-based hyperspectral imagers, for which a reduction in cryo-cooled mass translates into prodigious savings in overall payload mass, cryo-cooling requirements, and waste heat removal. By contrast, longer term approaches might realize infrared “hyperspectral pixels” in two-dimensional imaging FPAs. In this case, each pixel would detect different wavelengths of radiation, at different depths, and the resulting “spectral photocurrents” would be transported to read-out circuitry through a vertical grid of electrical contacts. Although not yet realized in practice, the conceptual basis for accomplishing this, with the widely available HgCdTe detector material, has been described. With regard to employment, space-based thermal hyperspectral imaging is characterized by coarser ground resolution as a result of aperture diameter limitations and diffraction considerations at the longer infrared wavelengths. The resulting subpixel detections, based on spectral signature, are often complementary with higher resolution, shorter wavelength, panchromatic imagery.