Multispectral Scanning

Many electronic (as opposed to photographic) remote sensors acquire data using scanning systems, which employ a sensor with a narrow field of view (i.e. IFOV) that sweeps over the terrain to build up and produce a two-dimensional image of the surface. Scanning systems can be used on both aircraft and satellite platforms and have essentially the same operating principles. A scanning system used to collect data over a variety of different wavelength ranges is called a multispectral scanner (MSS), and is the most commonly used scanning system. There are two main modes or methods of scanning employed to acquire multispectral image data - across-track scanning, and along-track scanning.

Across-track scannersAcross-track scanners scan the Earth in a series of lines. The lines are oriented perpendicular to the direction of motion of the sensor platform (i.e. across the swath). Each line is scanned from one side of the sensor to the other, using a rotating mirror (A). As the platform moves forward over the Earth, successive scans build up a two-dimensional image of the Earth´s surface. The incoming reflected or emitted radiation is separated into several spectral components that are detected independently. The UV, visible, near-infrared, and thermal radiation are dispersed into their constituent wavelengths. A bank of internal detectors (B), each sensitive to a specific range of wavelengths, detects and measures the energy for each spectral band and then, as an electrical signal, they are converted to digital data and recorded for subsequent computer processing.

The IFOV (C) of the sensor and the altitude of the platform determine the ground resolution cell viewed (D), and thus the spatial resolution. The angular field of view (E) is the sweep of the mirror, measured in degrees, used to record a scan line, and determines the width of the imaged swath (F). Airborne scanners typically sweep large angles (between 90º and 120º), while satellites, because of their higher altitude need only to sweep fairly small angles (10-20º) to cover a broad region. Because the distance from the sensor to the target increases towards the edges of the swath, the ground resolution cells also become larger and introduce geometric distortions to the images. Also, the length of time the IFOV "sees" a ground resolution cell as the rotating mirror scans (called the dwell time), is generally quite short and influences the design of the spatial, spectral, and radiometric resolution of the sensor.

Along-track scannersAlong-track scanners also use the forward motion of the platform to record successive scan lines and build up a two-dimensional image, perpendicular to the flight direction. However, instead of a scanning mirror, they use a linear array of detectors (A) located at the focal plane of the image (B) formed by lens systems (C), which are "pushed" along in the flight track direction (i.e. along track). These systems are also referred to as pushbroom scanners, as the motion of the detector array is analogous to the bristles of a broom being pushed along a floor. Each individual detector measures the energy for a single ground resolution cell (D) and thus the size and IFOV of the detectors determines the spatial resolution of the system. A separate linear array is required to measure each spectral band or channel. For each scan line, the energy detected by each detector of each linear array is sampled electronically and digitally recorded.

Along-track scanners with linear arrays have several advantages over across-track mirror scanners. The array of detectors combined with the pushbroom motion allows each detector to "see" and measure the energy from each ground resolution cell for a longer period of time (dwell time). This allows more energy to be detected and improves the radiometric resolution. The increased dwell time also facilitates smaller IFOVs and narrower bandwidths for each detector. Thus, finer spatial and spectral resolution can be achieved without impacting radiometric resolution. Because detectors are usually solid-state microelectronic devices, they are generally smaller, lighter, require less power, and are more reliable and last longer because they have no moving parts. On the other hand, cross-calibrating thousands of detectors to achieve uniform sensitivity across the array is necessary and complicated.

Regardless of whether the scanning system used is either of these two types, it has several advantages over photographic systems. The spectral range of photographic systems is restricted to the visible and near-infrared regions while MSS systems can extend this range into the thermal infrared. They are also capable of much higher spectral resolution than photographic systems. Multi-band or multispectral photographic systems use separate lens systems to acquire each spectral band. This may cause problems in ensuring that the different bands are comparable both spatially and radiometrically and with registration of the multiple images. MSS systems acquire all spectral bands simultaneously through the same optical system to alleviate these problems. Photographic systems record the energy detected by means of a photochemical process which is difficult to measure and to make consistent. Because MSS data are recorded electronically, it is easier to determine the specific amount of energy measured, and they can record over a greater range of values in a digital format. Photographic systems require a continuous supply of film and processing on the ground after the photos have been taken. The digital recording in MSS systems facilitates transmission of data to receiving stations on the ground and immediate processing of data in a computer environment.

Did you know?

"...backfield in motion..."

Diagram of a slit camera

There is a photographic parallel to the push-broom scanner. It is based on the "slit camera". This camera does not have a shutter per se, but a slit (A) running in the across-track direction, which exposes film (B) which is being moved continuously (C) past the slit. The speed of motion of the film has to be proportional to the ground speed (D) of the aircraft. Thus the film speed has to be adjusted for the flying circumstances of the moment. The slit width (E) in the along-track direction is also adjustable so as to control exposure time. There are no individual photo 'frames' produced, but a continuous strip of imagery. Stereo slit photography is also possible, using a twin-lens system aimed slightly apart from parallel and each exposing one half of the film width.