ASTEROID is an EU funded H2020-COMPET project whose main objective is to provide Europe with the capability to manufacture high performance infrared very large Focal Plane Arrays of 15-20 µm pitch pixels that can be used in scientific and astronomical space and ground telescope missions.
Classical IR detectors used for tactical or space missions are mainly linear arrays or two dimensions Focal Plane Arrays (FPA) which designs are compatible with the scene to observe.
For defense applications, the typical scenes to observe include vehicles, humans and buildings.
For Earth observation missions from satellites, the scenes to observe are landscapes, ground, sea and atmosphere.
These applications require detectors compatible with IR flux from Near IR (NIR), ShortWave IR (SWIR), MidWave IR (MWIR) and LongWave IR (LWIR). The fluxes coming from these scenes are in the range of 1000 to 1e6 photons/seconds/pixel. Moreover, the sizes of the classical detector used for these applications are XGA format at maximum (range 1000x1000 pixels).
Science and astronomy specifications
However, for science and astronomy, specific infrared (IR) detectors are required with their own features.
These focal plane arrays (FPA) need to be very large (> four million pixels) and compatible with very high performances, especially very low dark current and very low electrical noise.
These requirements are mandatory for observation where the objects (exo-planets, stars, galaxies and other space objects) to observe are very far from Earth and deliver a very small signal to detect.
In this case, the infrared flux is of the order of 1 to a few hundreds of photons per second per pixel.
The resolution of this type of detector is also an important specification. This constrains the format and pixel size of the detectors.
Large detector manufacturing challenge
Indeed it is worth noting that the resolution improvement can not be achieved by reducing the pixel size too much which would reduce even further the photon flux per pixel and put too many constraint on the dark current and noise requirements. Therefore with keeping the pixel pitch about constant high resolution IR detectors for science and astronomy can only be achieved with very large surface FPA. Today large dimension infrared focal plane arrays (IR FPA) are only available from US Company
ASTEROID will enable Europe to acquire the technology and knowledge necessary to manufacture large IR FPA, define the types of products to design and define the strategy to create an industrial manufacturing line of these detectors.
ASTEROID teams is composed of five European partners working in leading edge technologies to enable Europe to be independent in the procurement of high quality IR detectors allowing prime scientific projects in years to come.