Boeing, Pentagon discussing space-based hyperspectral sensor options

Boeing says it is in discussions with the US government about deploying a space-based hyperspectral imaging sensor several years after the air force started flying Raytheon’s Airborne Cueing and Exploitation System-Hyperspectral, or ACES-Hy, system tactically on an MQ-1 Predator UAV.

ACES-Hy, which captures images based on an object’s electromagnetic signature, was originally tested on a satellite before being integrated with an unmanned aircraft. Now, Boeing says there is interest from the Pentagon in augmenting a space-based capability with its airborne hyperspectral imaging pods.

Umesh Ketkar, Boeing’s director of advanced space and intelligence systems, said at company-sponsored media tour in Los Angeles May 19 that the commercial sector is interested in providing hyperspectral imaging services to the government, but the Pentagon might also choose to deploy its own payload on a satellite.

“We’re engaged with government at two levels,” he explains. “One is a government acquisition of a space system, and the other that the government has expressed a lot of interest in is acquiring the data without having to acquire the satellite system.

“We’re having a lot more discussions with them about providing them data or even [alerting them to] signals of interest.” Ketkar says the defense department is still assessing its requirements, and it could be a while before any decision is made.

“They’re trying to figure out what mix of air-based – things like ACES-Hy – and space-based systems they need,” he says. “I don’t think they’ve come to a final conclusion on that yet.”

The US Air Force currently leads the development and fielding of hyperspectral imaging technology, and is currently working on an improved, high-resolution ACES-Hy camera, according to its latest budget documents.

The research and development programme attracts $14.5 million in funding through 2020. L-3 Communications and Exelis both support ACES-Hy with Raytheon as the prime contractor. A space-based system would require a much larger investment.

The air force's Advanced Responsive Tactically Effective Military Imaging Spectrometer (ARTEMIS) hyperspectral imaging payload was put on orbit in 2009 for a two-year mission.

Hyperspectral sensors are used to detect minute changes on the battlefield and they have been used to detect improvised explosive devices and other hidden threats.