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CIS Alumnus Takes on Instrumental Role in Next Landsat Satellite
Remote Sensing
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Matthew Montanaro—a Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science doctoral alumnus—has played a key role in the development of a state-of-the-art infrared imager aboard the newest Landsat mission scheduled for launch in February. 

Jan. 24, 2013
Amy Mednick

Collaborating with a team of scientists and engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, Montanaro is applying his knowledge of remote sensing theory and imaging methods to the Landsat Data Continuity Mission. Landsat 8 is the most advanced of eight remote sensing satellite missions designed to collect images of the Earth from space for land use research.

After completing his doctorate in May 2009, Montanaro joined Goddard in September 2009.  His work focuses on a specialized camera called the Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS), which is designed to detect changes in temperature on the earth’s surface. The TIRS camera takes images in infrared wavelengths, which are beyond the visible range. Each image arrives in the form of raw numbers, representing intensities across the image, and Montanaro calibrates those numbers to produce an image of the Earth’s temperature variations. “My job is to figure out algorithms and connect the data to meaningful temperatures that scientists can use in their research,” Montanaro says. “When you are done, you have a temperature map of the earth’s surface.”

Practically speaking, this new sensor will help farmers, scientists, and enforcement agencies track water management in the Midwest, for example, in times of draught. “If you fly over the Midwest and look out the window, you see these huge circles that are irrigation fields,” Montanaro explains. “If you think of heat, you’re spraying a lot of water [on the field] and when that water evaporates, it cools the surface. Our instrument is designed to detect that change in temperature. You would be able to see temperature differences between these fields.”

The TIRS team has worked on an accelerated schedule to be ready for the February 2013 launch date of Landsat 8, which is equipped with an optical camera as well as TIRS. NASA launched the first satellite in the Landsat series in 1972; a new mission is put in orbit every five to 10 years, and each version becomes more sophisticated in its instrumentation. 

Engineers built the new TIRS instrument at Goddard and shipped it to Orbital Sciences Corporation in Gilbert, Arizona last February where engineers installed both TIRS and the mission’s visible-light camera aboard the satellite. During the late summer and fall, Montanaro made numerous trips to Gilbert to assist in observatory level testing. In these tests, TIRS took images simulating the satellite in orbit, and Montanaro checked the data to ensure their reliability. The satellite has been shipped to the launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where it will be mounted on top of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, according to the NASA website.  After launch, the team will spend 90 days taking test images and ensuring the reliability of the data and then the U.S. Geological Survey takes over the operation of collecting the data.

Montanaro says his training in the Carlson Center for Imaging Science at RIT, where he studied thermal remote sensing theory and imaging methods with Professor Carl Salvaggio, prepared him well for his job duties at NASA. 

“Matt's research leading to his doctoral degree was to look at the interactions of optical radiation in a complex, cavernous target, and predict what a remote sensing system would observe,” Salvaggio says. “Matt developed an in-depth understanding of the way thermal infrared energy interacts with targets, the atmosphere, and the sensor, which prepared him in a very solid way for his current work at NASA producing the next generation of infrared sensing systems.”

While at RIT Montanaro focused exclusively on the science side of remote sensing, whereas TIRS has also required him to comprehend the engineering end of camera design. “You see [the work] from a different perspective here. You see everything that has to go into building something like this and then launching it,” Montanaro says. “You get to see the inner workings of stuff that the public doesn’t normally get to see. And, hopefully, in February, it will actually launch and then something we worked on will be orbiting the earth.”


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