What can you do with infrared technology?

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Analyze aircraft engine exhaust at a distance using infrared cameras and spectrometers.

This image was recorded by an infrared camera at a test rig during the servicing of an engine for passenger aircraft. The engine is running at about 30 per cent capacity, which is equivalent to the thrust during landing. The edge of the engine nozzle, which has a diameter of about 90 centimeters, can be seen at left. The exhaust leaves the engine at the high temperature of about 500 degrees Celsius (white/yellow) and after traveling some 2 meters has cooled down to about 400 degrees Celsius (violet). The scale at left shows radiation values used to calculate the temperatures. One can see that gas masses of different temperatures are being ejected. The hot, right-angled structure in the gas jet is a sensor for extracting samples. The circular spot above it is a heated reference radiator placed behind the exhaust jet and used to calibrate the camera.

Detect and analyze fires from space, whether they're forest fires, volcanic eruptions or campfires

The upper image is a photograph of a wood fire 2 meters x 2 meters in area, set during a clear winter night in a snow-covered landscape north of Lake Ammersee in southern Bavaria. The lower image was recorded with an infrared camera on the BIRD satellite when it flew overhead at 550 kilometers altitude.

You can clearly recognize in the thermally weakly structured landscape the somewhat warmer and thermally uniform Lake Ammersee, and a part of Lake Starnberg. A yellow circle was inserted to mark the location of the fire, which can be clearly distinguished from its surroundings.

The satellite was moving at a velocity of 7 kilometers per second above the earth. The infrared camera had a spatial resolution of about 320 meters x 320 meters on the ground, which means that infrared radiation coming from an area of that size produces one pixel. The 4 square meters fire in a pixel comprising a total area of 102,400 square meters causes a slight increase in infrared radiation, enough to be detected by the sensitive BIRD camera. 

Supporting aircraft pilots at night and when visibility is low

Bad visibility always means increased risk in air traffic, especially during landing maneuvers. Infrared cameras can see more than a pilot can during night-time and under certain weather conditions that hinder sight. The images at right show a night-time landing approach, recorded with an infrared camera (below) and with a colour video camera (above). The cameras were mounted in the nose of the approaching aircraft, so they faced in the same direction the pilot did. Other than the fact that it was night-time, visibility was good. You can clearly see the difference in information provided by the two systems: in the top image you only see the runway illumination; in the infrared image below you see the runway itself and many landscape details (forest, street, building).