Infrared cloud imager development for atmospheric optical communication characterization, and measurements at the JPL Table Mountain Facility

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The continuous demand for high data return in deep space and near-Earth satellite missions has led NASA and international institutions to consider alternative technologies for high-data-rate communications. One solution is the establishment of widebandwidth Earth–space optical communication links, which require (among other things) a nearly obstruction-free atmospheric path. Considering the atmospheric channel, the most common and most apparent impairments on Earth–space optical communication paths arise from clouds. Therefore, the characterization of the statistical behavior of cloud coverage for optical communication ground station candidate sites is of vital importance. In this article, we describe the development and deployment of a ground-based, long-wavelength infrared cloud imaging system able to monitor and characterize the cloud coverage. This system is based on a commercially available camera with a 62-deg diagonal field of view. A novel internal-shutter-based calibration technique allows radiometric calibration of the camera, which operates without a thermoelectric cooler. This cloud imaging system provides continuous day–night cloud detection with constant sensitivity. The cloud imaging system also includes data-processing algorithms that calculate and remove atmospheric emission to isolate cloud signatures, and enable classification of clouds according to their optical attenuation. Measurements of long-wavelength infrared cloud radiance are used to retrieve the optical attenuation (cloud optical depth due to absorption and scattering) in the wavelength range of interest from visible to near-infrared, where the cloud attenuation is quite constant. This article addresses the specifics of the operation, calibration, and data processing of the imaging system that was deployed at the NASA/JPL Table Mountain Facility (TMF) in California. Data are reported from July 2008 to July 2010. These data describe seasonal variability in cloud cover at the TMF site, with cloud amount (percentage of cloudy pixels) peaking at just over 51 percent during February, of which more than 60 percent had optical attenuation exceeding 12 dB at wavelengths in the range from the visible to the near-infrared. The lowest cloud amount was found during August, averaging 19.6 percent, and these clouds were mostly optically thin, with low attenuation.



Aerospace engineering, Optics, Meteorology


P. W. Nugent, J. A. Shaw, and S. Piazzolla,"Infrared cloud imager development for atmospheric optical communication characterization, and measurements at the JPL Table Mountain Facility" Interplanetary Network Progress Report 42-192, 1-30, 2013.
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