Mars probe to benefit foggy airports

Researchers at the University of Reading’s Optics Group have been developing cameras which will produce substantially better pictures in adverse weather conditions than current technologies.

Researchers at the University of Reading’s Optics Group have been developing cameras that work not with infra-red but with passive millimeter waves which will produce substantially better pictures in adverse weather conditions than current technologies.

While the infra-red camera can ‘see’ in complete darkness, and pick up radiation produced by objects to make a TV picture of them, these objects also radiate at far longer wavelengths. Thus the technology being developed at Reading will be used to enable pilots to navigate through thick clouds, fog and rain. It will also be used by air traffic controllers to monitor ground movements to avoid collisions with other planes or vehicles on the tarmac, enabling airports to be kept open under adverse weather conditions.

Previously, millimeter wave imagers would take several seconds to capture a picture, but the camera pioneered by the optics group reproduces instant images at TV rates. Also, images that until now have been blurred can be sharpened using digital image processing techniques.

Telescope and spectrometer have been manufactured by Symons Mirror Technology, and the Optics Group now has the contract to develop the main body of the imaging spectrometer which uses toroidal mirrors. The whole instrument is due for completion by the end of March 2000 for delivery to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. It is anticipated that the final instrument will be sent up in a NASA Mars probe scheduled for around 2006.