Plasmonic Imager Could Slim Down Spy Satellites

But even its developers are far from knowing if it will work

3 min read

10 April 2008--The U.S. Department of Defense hopes that a new type of imaging system will improve its spy satellites by allowing them to see in both the visible and infrared spectra using one simplified camera system. The DOD’s National Reconnaissance Office, responsible for the nation's reconnaissance satellites, has given HRL Laboratories, of Malibu, Calif., a research award for an undisclosed sum to explore a concept known as plasmonic imaging. The idea is based on how light interacts with structures made of metal and dielectrics.

”This is just a concept, and it has not been proven yet,” says Keyvan Sayyah, a senior research scientist in HRL's Applied Electromagnetics Laboratory, who came up with the idea and is leading the study. HRL is a corporate research lab owned by Boeing and General Motors.

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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.


For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

The Webb’s comms aren’t flashy. Rather, the data and communication systems are designed to be incredibly, unquestionably dependable and reliable. And while some aspects of them are relatively new—it’s the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies for such high data rates so far from Earth, for example—above all else, JWST’s comms provide the foundation upon which JWST’s scientific endeavors sit.

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