Raytheon has developed the world’s largest infrared light-wave detector to expand current enhance capabilities in environmental monitoring, astronomical research and missile warning.

The detector designed for space applications, is four times larger than the existing infrared detectors and can capture data from a wider field of view with more sensitivity.

The largest ever 4K-by-4K focal plane array has 16 million pixels, arranged in 4,096 rows and columns.

A focal plane array captures packets of light waves (photons) and converts them to electrical impulses that can be used to produce data about the object that emitted the photons. The area it can survey is proportionate to the number of pixels on the array.

Raytheon Space Systems vice-president Bill Hart said the breakthrough in focal-plane technology will clear the way for significant design improvements in a range of military and civil applications.

“When employed as part of a satellite sensor system, the 4K-by-4K will permit full-Earth hemisphere staring with a single focal plane array,” Hart said.

The infrared detector will enable the weather satellites to provide continuous detailed information about global storms, and aid in detecting infrared phenomena from larger distances than previously possible.

Space-based missile warning will benefit from the large format focal plane array since sensors equipped with this technology will provide an unblinking eye over an entire hemisphere and detect dimmer events or objects quicker than current systems.

Further, the sensors using the array would not need the traditional complex scanning mechanisms for covering wide fields of view and will be easier to design, build and test.