• Calibration of microbolometer infrared cameras for measuring volcanic ash mass loading

      Carroll, Russell C.; Hawkins, Joseph; Thorsen, Denise; Raskovic, Dejan; Hatfield, Michael (2014-08)
      Small spacecraft with thermal infrared (TIR) imaging capabilities are needed to detect dangerous levels of volcanic ash that can severely damage jet aircraft engines and must be avoided. Grounding aircraft after a volcanic eruption may cost the airlines millions of dollars per day, while accurate knowledge of volcanic ash density might allow for safely routing aircraft around dangerous levels of volcanic ash. There are currently limited numbers of satellites with TIR imaging capabilities so the elapsed time between revisits can be large, and these instruments can only resolve total mass loading along the line-of-sight. Multiple small satellites could allow for decreased revisit times as well as multiple viewing angles to reveal the three-dimensional structure of the ash cloud through stereoscopic techniques. This paper presents the design and laboratory evaluation of a TIR imaging system that is designed to fit within the resource constraints of a multi-unit CubeSat to detect volcanic ash mass loading. The laboratory prototype of this TIR imaging system uses a commercial off-theshelf (COTS) camera with an uncooled microbolometer sensor, two narrowband filters, a black body source and a custom filter wheel. The infrared imaging system detects the difference in attenuation of volcanic ash at 11 μm and 12 μm by measuring the brightness temperature at each band. The brightness temperature difference method is used to measure the column mass loading. Multi-aspect images and stereoscopic techniques are needed to estimate the mass density from the mass loading, which is the measured mass per unit area. Laboratory measurements are used to characterize the noise level and thermal stability of the sensor. A calibration technique is developed to compensate for sensor temperature drift. The detection threshold of volcanic ash density of this TIR imaging system is found to be from 0.35 mg/m3 to 26 mg/m3 for ash clouds that have thickness of 1 km, while ash cloud densities greater than 2.0 mg/m3 are considered dangerous to aircraft. This analysis demonstrates that a TIR imaging system for determining whether the volcanic ash density is dangerous for aircraft is feasible for multi-unit Cubesat platforms.