Space Dynamics Laboratory invests $5.7 M to upgrade its calibration capabilities

By Karen Wolfe
Utah State University Research Foundation/Space Dynamics Laboratory
August 1, 2008

North Logan, UT—At a time when many companies are trimming personnel and reducing investments to their infrastructure, the Space Dynamics Laboratory in North Logan, Utah, is doing the opposite. The research lab owned by Utah State University and known as SDL, is spending millions of dollars to upgrade its equipment and facilities and has increased its talented workforce by nearly a quarter since 2006.

The electro-optical sensor calibration and characterization work being performed by the lab has spurred much of this growth. SDL is recognized as one of the most comprehensive calibration facilities in the nation and has shown its commitment to enhance its position by investing close to $6 million to upgrade its optical and calibration equipment and facilities.


In late January, SDL added to its assemblage of multi-function infrared calibration, or MIC, chambers with the addition of MIC5. MIC5 incorporates multiple optical configurations into a single, cryogenically cooled dewar which allows a source to be altered or exchanged without breaking vacuum.

SDL specializes in the design, fabrication, and operation of high accuracy calibration hardware. Lab resources now include four functional MIC chambers; a high-accuracy extended source; a Thermal Optical Research Chamber, known as THOR; a long-wave infrared calibration source; and other supporting calibration hardware. The Lab is currently in the process of completing SDLXR, a transfer radiometer similar to one used by the National Institute of Standards, or NIST, which will allow SDL to enhance current radiometric traceability to NIST primary IR standards.

On April 16, SDL successfully completed calibration and characterization of a key element of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s Multiple Kill Vehicle–L payload, built by Lockheed Martin. The successful calibration of an operational pathfinder seeker for the carrier vehicle program represents an important milestone for the MKV team, which will now proceed with building two operational prototype seekers. Also scheduled for early to mid summer 2008 is the calibration of an Air Force Research Laboratory sensor.

SDL’s heritage in designing and fabricating sensors allows the Lab to take a system-level approach to calibration, from the planning stages through data analyses leading to a comprehensive understanding of sensor performance. With its internationally renowned scientists and engineers, SDL also plays an active role in the calibration community by hosting or sponsoring several conferences and workshops that focus on the challenges of sensor characterization and calibration.

The Space Dynamics Laboratory of North Logan, Utah is a nonprofit research corporation owned by Utah State University. SDL has designed, fabricated and operated over 400 payloads, including shuttle experiments, small satellites and satellite-based sensor systems. Core competencies include infrared and hyperspectral sensor development, data compression and processing, cryogenic systems and sensor calibration.