Air Force News

Airborne laser sensitive camera arrives

Released: 23 Sep 1999

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AFPN) -- The world's most sensitive camera was delivered here Sept. 21 to become a critical component of the Airborne Laser, a laser-equipped aircraft capable of destroying missil es hundreds of miles away.

The camera, which will allow long-range tracking of hostile targets through turbulent atmosphere, was delivered by Santa Clara-based Intevac Inc. to officials at Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space. Lockheed Martin is a major contractor working on the Airborne Laser for the Air Force.

The electron bombarded charge-coupled device camera system is a very sensitive imaging system capable of operating at a very high camera frame rate in extremely low-light conditions. It doesn't operate like a home film camera. The speed, or sensitivity of home film cameras, for example, is measured in an ASA or ISO rating. While an average film camera might have an ASA rating of 200, this camera has a rating 200,000 times faster than that. Also, a home camera might take one to five exposures per second. This camera operates at an electronic frame rate of 20-kilohertz, which means the images are updated 20,000 times per second. From a standpoint of low-light capability and electronic frame rate, this camera is about 40 million times faster than most home film cameras, qualifying it as the world's most sensitive camera.

The first of seven camera units to be delivered, it will be used for testing critical interfaces between the Airborne Laser's wavefront and fine tracker/ranger sensors and its beam control/fire control processor. The remaining six camera units are scheduled to be delivered by February.

"Delivery of this state-of-the-art camera system is truly amazing considering that only 18 months ago the first applicable photocathode used with this camera was built," said Paul Shattuck, Lockheed Martin's Airborne Laser program manager.

"This event represents another successful milestone in the effort to develop and demonstrate this revolutionary weapon system," Col. Mike Booen, the Air Force's program manager for the Airborne Laser, added.

The Airborne Laser's current program definition and risk reduction contract with the Air Force calls for an industry team to produce, integrate and flight test the first prototype Airborne Laser demonstration system.

The team is scheduled to shoot down a theater ballistic missile in the boost phase in 2003. An Airborne Laser engineering and manufacturing development program could begin as early as 2004. This first aircraft will provide the Air Force with a residual operational capability. Final integration and test of the Lockheed Martin-built beam control/fire control system is scheduled for late 2001.

The program is being managed by the Airborne Laser System Program Office at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., under the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif.


* Air Force Research Laboratory - Kirtland
* Space and Missile Systems Center
* Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
* Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif.