Defense Advanced Research Projects AgencyTagged Content List

Novel Sensing and Detection

Novel concepts and devices capable of detecting and monitoring physical phenomena

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At a mountaintop event in New Mexico on October 18, 2016, DARPA handed off ownership its Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) from an Agency-led design and construction program to ownership and operation by U.S. Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), which operate the telescope in Australia jointly with the Australian government.
DARPA proved that practical, uncooled infrared detector technology was possible under the Low Cost, Uncooled Sensor Program (LOCUSP) of the late 1980’s. Previous generations of IR sensors used cryogenics to cool the detector materials and reduce system noise. Although these steps proved to be effective – these earlier systems were credited with being a major factor in the U.S. ground victory in Desert Strom, for example – the sensors were costly to develop, prohibiting widespread distribution to combat troops. Under the LOCUSP program, cost-effective, uncooled IR detector technology was developed, fabricated, and demonstrated for use across various military applications. In 1991, the Uncooled Focal Plane Arrays (UCFPA) project was started under the Balanced Technology Initiative to create practical applications of DARPA’s research into uncooled sensor arrays. Under this effort, uncooled focal plane arrays were advanced for applications such as surveillance systems for perimeter defense and weapon sights.
In collaboration with the Department of Defense’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), DARPA initiated the Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar (VADER) program to design and deploy a radar system for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or small manned aircraft. Developed for DARPA by Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems, VADER provided synthetic aperture radar and ground moving-target indicator data to detect, localize, and track vehicles and dismounted troops.

The ARPA Vela program developed sensors to detect nuclear explosions in space, the upper atmosphere, and underwater to support the 1963 Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, under which the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union banned atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons. The first VELA sensors, deployed on a pair of satellites launched three days after the treaty was signed, were designed to monitor for optical and electromagnetic signatures of nuclear explosions in the atmosphere.

Later in the 1960s and 1970s, DARPA oversaw the development of the World Wide Standardized Seismograph Network (WWSSN) for detecting underground nuclear tests. The Agency also helped expand detection technologies globally and internationally by running workshops, funding research projects in other countries, and championing community-building initiatives.

ARPA’s TIROS program placed the first dedicated weather satellite, TIROS 1, in orbit on April 1, 1960.