Airborne sensor maps the threat

Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have developed airborne infrared sensor technology that can detect and map hazardous and toxic chemical plumes unleashed by disaster or terrorist acts.

The Airborne Spectral Photometric Collection Technology, known as ASPECT, is the result of more than five years of research and development by researchers within Los Alamos’ Physical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy Group and the US EPA.

ASPECT uses two sensors mounted aboard an Aerocommander 680 aircraft. The first sensor, called a Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer, detects and locates chemical vapours. It can peer through smoke and dust to get an accurate measurement of the location and concentration of the vapour plume. The second sensor, a high-resolution Infrared Line Scanner, records an image of the ground below and plume information as well.

Information from both instruments is combined with high-resolution digital imagery and Global Positioning System information to create an accurate map of the land surface and the chemical vapour plume hazard.

In minutes, ASPECT can show the main plume as well as places where gas has collected and settled, such as in low-lying areas or locations where there is little or no air movement.

The vapour hazard plume map then can be transmitted to personnel on the ground who can take appropriate action based on the information.