Development and Characterization of the Airborne Radiological Enhanced-sensor System
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
The Airborne Radiological Enhanced-sensor System (ARES) Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) strives to improve capabilities to detect, localize, track, and identify illicit radiological and/or nuclear material in airborne search scenarios.
The Transformational and Applied Research (TAR) Directorate in the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) contracted Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) to perform a study to identify potential technologies that could be transformational when applied to gamma-ray detection from an aerial platform. Based mostly on benchmarked modeling, this study quantified the adverse impacts that real complexities such as changing topography and varying helicopter orientation have on the detection and localization performance of existing airborne detection systems, helping to inform the scope of the ATD program. The study identified improved energy resolution and imaging capabilities — particularly in the dimension perpendicular to the path of the platform — as desirable detector system improvements.
This study also suggested that focus on contextual data such as the digitized topography and the material composition of the geographic and man-made features encountered during measurements; better knowledge of the position and orientation of the detector system; and the ability to track targets could be potentially impactful. To fully realize the performance gains that could be achieved from fusing data, more advanced algorithms are required.
Under the ATD, performers were contracted to conduct research and development under two separate areas, referred to as Topics 1 and 2. Topic 1 involved the production of an advanced prototype detector system based on the implementation of mature technologies that would be fielded on the Bell 412 helicopter platform and would generate both the radiation and the contextual data. The Topic 2 teams were responsible for developing advanced algorithms to better utilize the information within the data streams generated by Topic 1.
To date, approximately 100 hours of flight data have been collected over a variety of topologies. The final ~60 flight hours featured the fully operational ARES sensor package. A portion of the collected data was provided to the Topic 2 teams to facilitate algorithm development, while the remainder is being used to test and quantify system performance. Due to the practical limitations preventing placing radiological sources in public, the majority of the characterization relies upon experimentally-validated source injection performed offline using a data replay tool. This offline approach results in the creation of an extensive data set that could provide additional value in the future, and enables a more systematic approach to characterization.
Through this ATD, TAR will gain a comprehensive understanding of the state and potential of available aerial radiation detection technologies as well as the impact that the various contextual data streams have on detection and localization of radiological threats.
This work has been supported by the US Department of Homeland Security, Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, under IAA HSHQDC-11-X-00380. This support does not constitute an express or implied endorsement on the part of the Government.