News

D.U.S.T.E.R.

By Jen Beasley
The Herald Journal
January 23, 2008

There are spy games happening at the Space Dynamics Lab.

A reconnaissance program nicknamed D.U.S.T.E.R. for Deployable Unmanned Systems for Targeting, Exploitation and Reconnaissance, has developed a pair of imaging devices lightweight enough to be placed on very small unmanned aircraft, which offers a tactical advantage because it prevents the need to put people in harm’s way, and small aircraft are less expensive to fly or to lose.

DUSTER program demonstration aircraft
The Piper Seneca was outfitted with the NuSAR instrument built by SDL,
BYU, Artemis, and NRL along with the NRL data link for transmission of data to the users on the ground
The Skymaster O-2 carried the
EyePod sensor system which contains a visible imager and a long-wave infrared imager in a ball gimbal
The Dakota, an unmanned aerial vehicle built by SDL and Geneva Aerospace, carried the MicroSAR instrument built
by BYU and SDL and the mini-common data link built by L-3 Com

Scott Anderson, D.U.S.T.E.R. program co-director, said the miniaturization of reconnaissance devices is a valuable tool for the military and has the potential for imminent implementation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“If you’ve been watching movies since the dawn of time, they’ve been able to do this for 30 years,” Anderson said.

But the Hollywood image is only now becoming a reality in actual aerial reconnaissance, Anderson said, through a cooperative effort that joined the forces of the SDL, BYU, the Naval Research Laboratory, Artemis, Inc., and L-3 Communications, Communications West.

The two imaging devices work in different ways.

EyePod

The EyePod instrument is approximately
24 inches long and weighs approximately 25 pounds

The first, called EyePod, takes traditional camera-like photos, but is special because of a built-in stabilization system that allows it to take clear images in the often turbulent conditions experienced by small aircraft. The device resembles a soccer ball on a mount, Anderson said, and measures only about 2.5 feet by 9 inches.

The second, known as NuSAR, uses radar pulses instead of light and an antenna instead of a lens to create images, bouncing radar back and forth off the Earth’s surface 1,000 times per second and absorbing the returning pulses to form a picture. This ability makes NuSAR more effective at night, during sandstorms and in other conditions where a traditional “sighted” camera would be foiled.

An SDL press release on the device said it “uses a unique frequency range to detect relevant military targets,” and though Anderson admitted it has advantages “picking out certain things” he refused to be specific about what.

Another SAR (synthetic aperture radar) device was mentioned in the press release as being especially useful in the detection of metal.

EyePod VNIR image of the USU stadium area

USU's Romney Stadium in Logan taken with EyePod’s visible sensor

Anderson said the program was developed with $6 million over three years, thanks largely to Sen. Bob Bennett, who became interested in the program after receiving a Navy briefing on the need for such technology.

Anderson said because military branches have immediate war expenses to take care of, they cannot always put forth the funds to develop new systems. He said that’s where the SDL comes in.

“We’re not just deciding to build a camera because we thought it would be neat,” Anderson said. “(Working with the military) gives us a real unique viewpoint on what we’ve got and what we need.

The D.U.S.T.E.R. team is currently in talks with “a government agency” interested in the technologies, Anderson said, but he would not say whether it was the Navy or some other branch. A demonstration of the imaging devices in Hill Air Force Base’s testing ground in Utah’s West Desert in October was successful, and Anderson said the tactical advantages of the small cameras were shown there.

“It allows you to get in closer, it allows you to not put human lives at risk, and it allows you to save the cost of putting up a jet.”

© 2008 The Herald Journal