[About Sandia]
[Unique Solutions]
[Working With Us]
[Contacting Us]
[News Center]
[navigation panel]

[Sandia Lab News]

Vol. 55, No. 11           May 30, 2003
[Sandia National Laboratories]

Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185-0165    ||   Livermore, California 94550-0969
Tonopah, Nevada; Nevada Test Site; Amarillo, Texas

Back to the Lab News home page

MicroHound 'sniffer' goes to federal emergency response teams for evaluation Sandia's MTI satellite completes its three-year mission Zircle, Brennan, and Sandia: A new kind of partnership

MicroHound 'sniffer' goes to federal emergency response teams for evaluation

Back to topBack to Lab News home page.

By John German

A Sandia team has developed a more capable "electronic nose" for sniffing out vanishingly faint concentrations of explosives.
The latest sniffer, called the MicroHound(tm), is the size of a totable toolbox and weighs just 12 pounds.
It draws in a bathtubfull of air with each breath, collecting explosives vapors and particles on a metal filter.
The filter is heated, re-launching the trapped explosives into a much smaller puff of air, about a tablespoon's worth.
This air is sampled using an on-board sensor called an ion mobility spectrometer (IMS), which detects and identifies the explosives.
This "preconcentration" technique can be likened to netting thousands of fish from waters as vast as an ocean, releasing the catch into a pond, and then fishing the pond -- with much increased odds.
The approach, pioneered and patented by Sandia in the mid '90s, has enabled the development of highly sensitive sniffers, ranging from a drive-through vehicle checkpoint to a walk-through portal for screening airline passengers at airports, that catch the faintest whiffs of bomb-making chemicals.
By early 2000, the Sandia team had miniaturized the preconcentration equipment enough to create "luggable" devices for identifying trace concentrations of explosives at special events and crime scenes.

Installable, luggable, portable

The MicroHound (a.k.a. µHound) -- a collaboration of Security Systems and Technology Center 5800 and Microsystems Science, Technologies, and Components Center 1700 -- is the latest evolution in smaller and cheaper explosives-detection devices, says project leader Kevin Linker (5848).
It is the first hand-carried sniffer that integrates in a single device Sandia technologies for the preconcentration, sampling, and detection of explosives, he says. (The previous Sandia device, a preconcentration module called the Hound II, weighed about 28 pounds including the commercial hand-held sensor it attaches to.)
The 12-pound sniffer can detect explosives in parts-per-trillion concentrations, depending on the type of explosive. That's sensitive enough to identify explosives in a fingerprint left by a person who had recently been working with bomb-making ingredients, he says.
The MicroHound could be used to sniff out hidden explosives in courtrooms, schools, or other high-risk facilities, or at entry points to screen people or parcels.
Demand for such sensitive and portable explosives-detection capabilities have increased significantly since 9/11, accelerating Sandia's development work, says Kevin.
For now the customers are members of federal emergency response teams involved in homeland security. Sandia has fabricated, assembled, and delivered several prototype MicroHounds for field-testing and evaluation.
Although the MicroHound is not yet available commercially, Sandia might consider licensing the technology in the future, he says.

Miniaturizing security sensors

Meanwhile the Sandia team continues to improve the MicroHound's capabilities and reduce its size and cost.
The next MicroHound might include a second preconcentration cycle that would improve its sensitivity even further.
In addition, says Kevin, the ability to fashion more of the MicroHound's components from silicon using microelectronics fabrication techniques, one goal of the ongoing project, could significantly reduce the size and cost of future hand-held sniffers.
Future versions of the sniffer will include not only a micro-sized IMS detector, but also a Sandia-developed surface acoustic wave (SAW) sensor. The two devices will work in tandem to validate explosives-detections and reduce false alarm rates. (See "MicroHound meets MicroChemLab" at right.)
Inexpensive manufacture of the micro-sized IMS is being made possible through a new fabrication process that employs a low-temperature, co-fired ceramic material, developed jointly with Manufacturing Systems, Science, and Technology Div. 14000 and
Center 1700. An associated micro-valve is being developed that uses a Sandia-patented semiconductor fabrication process.
And a micro Faraday detector for improved ion detection, also under development in
Dept. 2552 and building on previous work at the University of Arizona (a collaborator on the project), could enhance the detection of explosives by orders of magnitude, as well, says Kevin.
"This is one of several projects involving the application of microtechnology to security problems within Center 5800," says Rebecca Horton, Dept. 5848 manager.
Beyond explosives, adds Kevin, the MicroHound concept might be the beginning of a single integrated portable platform with multiple detectors to find a variety of contraband, including radiation sources, narcotics, hazardous chemicals, and more.
"Kind of like a tricorder," he says.
Other Sandians involved in the project include Doug Adkins (1764), Ivan Alderete (14171), Lester Arakaki (5848), Johnny Baca (1738), Charles Brusseau (5848), Todd Christenson (1743), James Gonzales (14171), Chris Gresham (2552), C.J. Hartwigsen (5832), James Kuthakun (14171), Tom Lemp (1743), Mary-Anne Mitchell (5848), Ken Peterson (14171), Kent Pfeifer (1744), Scott
Rawlinson (6218), Chuck Rhykerd (5848), Mike Rightley (1745), Steve Rohde (1738), Diane Ross (5848), Art Rumpf (1744), Robert Sanchez (2554), Gary Shannon (5848), Robert Stokes (14171), Rose Torres (14171), Dan Trudell (1764), Timothy Turner (14171), Eric Varley (5848), and Jimmie Wolf (1738). - - John German

Back to topBack to Lab News home page.

Sandia's MTI satellite completes its three-year mission

Back to topBack to Lab News home page.

By John German

Mission accomplished.
The Multispectral Thermal Imager (MTI), the first full satellite and sensor system designed and built by Sandia, has successfully completed its three-year research goals, and the satellite continues to collect imagery for US government agencies, says MTI project manager Max Decker (5743).
Not only that, he says, but the satellite has been used in ways that were never anticipated by the design team.
The MTI's telescopic camera captures imagery data in 15 spectral bands that reveal heat or light patterns not visible to the human eye. It does so in levels of radiometric accuracy never previously accomplished from space.

Mission wrap-up

Since its launch just over three years ago, on March 12, 2000, the satellite has orbited the earth more than 17,300 times. (See www.sandia.gov/media/ NewsRel/NR2000/mtsuccess.htm for more about the launch.)
Operators at the Sandia/New Mexico ground station have contacted the satellite twice a day, 365 days a year. More than 440 gigabytes of raw imagery data have been downloaded from space, says Max.
The goal of the satellite's three-year research assignment was to demonstrate the feasibility of using the satellite's unique multispectral imaging technologies for both national security and environmental applications, he says, including treaty monitoring, mapping of chemical spills, studying vegetation health, and more.
As planned, the MTI's imaging camera has collected in some cases more than 50 images of sites outfitted with equipment that allows researchers to compare the imagery data taken from space with data supplied by instruments on the ground -- a calibration technique called "ground truthing."
"We've collected large amounts of data in support of the DOE's objectives," says Max, "and the results have been shared with the DOE research community."

Research and more

Specifically, the MTI team has fielded a highly calibrated system and worked to understand how to keep it calibrated in space, says Max, a feat that had never before been accomplished to the desired accuracies.
The system has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to measure absolute temperatures from space to better than two degrees. It can measure temperature differences to much more precise levels.
The MTI team also flew a new kind of linear-array focal plane of three sensor chip assemblies each housing 15 detector arrays. Each detector array looks through a filter that defines its optical capabilities. The three sensor chip assemblies are aligned and mounted on a single focal plane, which is cooled to 75 Kelvin (minus 198 degrees Celsius).
The team also demonstrated use of a pulse-tube cryocooler, which kept the components at 75 Kelvin continuously for 30 months.
"This is one of the longest continuously running mechanical on-orbit coolers ever fielded," says Max.
And they supported the research objectives of the MTI Users Group of more than 100 researchers from 50 national defense and civilian agencies. Among the MTI's scientific contributions are new understandings of volcanic activity, arctic shelf breakup, and other natural and man-made phenomena.
The MTI imaging camera has proven valuable enough that both government and private industry are incorporating similar imaging technology in designs and proposals for future satellites, he says.

Helping NOAA

A second imager on board the MTI, a Hard X-ray Spectrometer (HXRS) sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) to study solar flares, didn't quite last three years, says Max. It quit transmitting on Feb. 17, 2003, but managed to accomplish its planned mission first.
A letter from NOAA Director Ernest Hildner sent to Sandia praised the Lab's assistance and called the partnership an unqualified success.
"I extend to you ... our laboratory's deep appreciation for [your] substantial assistance and cooperation in making the [HXRS] experiment to view the sun an overall success," he wrote.

Hurdles overcome

The MTI's mission has not been without problems. Shortly after launch a glitch in the satellite's on-board power system resulted in unexpected battery discharges that prevented data from being collected and transmitted to the ground station.
It raised blood pressures at first, says Max, but the team soon learned to manage its power operations in a way that mitigated the problem.
Two other anomalies, a short in one of the satellite's two solid-state recorders -- its computer memory -- and a faulty gyroscope forced the team to find other creative workarounds.
The MTI's development and on-orbit operations were funded by NNSA's Office of Nonproliferation and National Security (NA-22). The satellite and sensor payload were developed by a Sandia, Los Alamos National Lab, Air Force, and industry team led by Sandia.

Exceeding the mission

Now that the mission goals are complete, the MTI has entered a bonus round, of sorts, collecting data on a routine basis for several government organizations.
To expedite data processing and improve efficiency, data processing responsibilities were formally transferred from Los Alamos to Sandia in late January, says Max. Sandia is now responsible for all aspects of the MTI system.
The satellite currently is gathering about nine images a day, 60 percent of which are requested by other government agencies for research purposes. The other 40 percent are being collected for NNSA labs.
A Sandia Spectral Image Processing and Exploitation team led by Jody Smith (5712) is squeezing ever more analysis capability out of the satellite, developing and experimenting with dozens of data processing algorithms and techniques that allow them to see more with existing instruments.
The new algorithms are providing new data useful for cloud identification, terrain characterization, change detection, and more, says Max.
"What we're doing now is trying to push the state of the art in spectral analysis tools," he says. "We are experimenting with a lot of ideas."
One trick, called "super sampling," involves snapping four images during the time period one image would normally be taken, allowing the team to synthesize images with resolutions four times better than the typical 5 meters of resolution.

The MTI's fate

This kind of experimentation will continue until the MTI is no longer useful, or until it plunges to earth, whichever comes first, says Max.
The satellite is expected to reenter the upper atmosphere in 2009 -- or, rather, be captured by the atmosphere -- during a solar max (expansion of the atmosphere) that occurs on an 11-year cycle.
Already the satellite's orbit has decayed. Shortly after its launch three years ago the MTI was 590 km high; today it is about 560 km up. In addition, its sun angle has changed, altering the times of day the imager can acquire targets.
When it does fall toward earth, says Max, it is expected to burn up and disintegrate before it reaches the ground.
"Sandians supporting the MTI program have advanced the state of satellite technology as well as the analysis tools used to exploit the data gathered," says Sid Gutierrez, Director of Monitoring Systems Center 5700. "They should be proud of these major contributions to our national security." - - John German

Back to topBack to Lab News home page.

Zircle, Brennan, and Sandia: A new kind of partnership

Back to topBack to Lab News home page.

By Ken Frazier

Zircle LP, a technology innovation group, is a novel economic development model founded by former Sandian Tom Brennan and business partner Mark Benak. Both are successful entrepreneurs, and Tom told Sandia President Paul Robinson one of his motivations is to give something back to Sandia.
"I am a Sandian," he said at the "historic" signing of a partnership agreement between Sandia and Zircle May 21, with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson looking on.
Zircle is a select group of entrepreneurs that will create and manage a pool of equity capital (the target is $50 million in private and state funds) with its partners, in this case Sandia. Zircle will work with Sandia to identify Labs technologies and market needs that create business opportunities best executed through start-up companies. Sandia, Zircle, the State of New Mexico, and Strategic Limited Partners (corporate partners who will invest in the technologies for potential acquisition or supplier objectives) will share in the ownership of these new ventures based upon their financial and technological investments.
"Unlike venture capital firms, Zircle does not invest in other people's ventures," says Brennan. "We build our own, using a pool of working capital provided by our investors, and technology supplied by our lab partners. You might say that our philosophy is entrepreneur-centric, rather than capital-centric."
Brennan says Zircle will focus its technology commercialization efforts in "hardware" products focused in technologies for defense, energy, communications, and medical applications.
"Zircle is a new national model for economic development," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said at the signing ceremony at Sandia. "The bottom line is that Zircle will directly financially benefit the national labs, the scientists, the technology industry, the State of New Mexico, our workforce, our communities, and our educators."
"I have a feeling that this will be a very historic moment five to 10 years from now," Rick Homans, Secretary of the New Mexico Economic Development Department, said.
Homans said the Zircle approach is an opportunity to build new businesses in New Mexico, taking advantage of the "technology gold mine the state is sitting on," with $3 billion of research under way up and down the Rio Grande corridor. "It is time to bring all this together and take the state to a whole new level. That's what Zircle is all about."
Tom Brennan, one of the managing general partners (with Mark Benak) in Zircle LP, was a senior member of technical staff at Sandia from 1986 to 1996, when he left to found MicroOptical Devices (MODE) in Albuquerque. MODE was based on Sandia-licensed compound semiconductors used in manufacturing vertical cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL) components. EMCORE Corporation, a Sandia strategic partner and major employer in the Sandia Science and Technology Park, acquired MODE in December 1997. -- Ken Frazier

Back to topBack to Lab News home page.

Last modified: May 29 , 2003

Back to the Lab News home page

Browse current and past Lab News articles

View Sandia news releases and fact sheets Back to top of page

Questions and Comments || Acknowledgment and Disclaimer