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News Release: December 23, 1999

Sandia readies Department of Energy’s Multispectral Thermal Imager satellite for launch

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Launch preparations are scheduled to begin next week for a Department of
Energy research satellite developed in New Mexico.

The Multispectral Thermal Imager (MTI) satellite developed at Sandia and Los Alamos national
laboratories includes a sophisticated telescope that collects day and night ground images in 15
spectral bands ranging from the visible to long-wave infrared. The unique imager, which was
designed and built by Sandia and calibrated in a special facility at Los Alamos, gives the satellite the
ability to “see” reflected and thermally radiated electromagnetic waves that are not visible to the
human eye, with performance currently achievable only in a laboratory setting.

MTI’s three-year R&D mission objectives are to advance the state-of-the-art in multispectral and
thermal imaging, image processing, and associated technologies and to better understand the utility
of these technologies. To achieve these objectives, researchers at Sandia, Los Alamos, and other
DOE facilities will compare satellite images to “ground truth data” simultaneously collected from
volunteer U.S. sites that have been instrumented by DOE’s Savannah River Technology Center.

Because the technology is expected to have a broad range of national defense and civilian
applications ranging from treaty monitoring to mapping of chemical spills, waste heat pollution in
lakes and rivers, vegetation health, and volcanic activity, the Department of Energy has established
an MTI Users Group, comprising more than 100 researchers from 50 national defense and civilian
agencies. These researchers will conduct similar experiments using MTI images of instrumented
ground sites.

The satellite also carries a High-energy X-ray Spectrometer (HXRS) sponsored by the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and developed by Space Devices, Ltd. of the
Czech Republic. This instrument will collect data needed to better understand a rare species of solar
flare known to be associated with high-energy particle storms that can endanger astronauts and
damage space equipment.

The MTI satellite is being shipped from Sandia National Laboratories on Monday, Dec. 27, to
Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., where the US Air Force Space and Missile Test and Evaluation
Directorate will launch it into polar orbit on Feb. 8 using an Orbital Sciences Corporation Taurus

The satellite’s development was funded by DOE’s Office of Nonproliferation and National Security,
and the launch is funded by the Department of Defense’s Air Force Space Test Program.

Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin Company,
for the United States Department of Energy under contract DE-AC04-94AL85000. With main
facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major research and development
responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental
technologies, and economic competitiveness.

For more information …

A giant leap for Sandia: Labs takes lead on total satellite system,

Begin with a scenario: Imagine a nuclear power plant in a closed country whose intentions toward
the US and its interests may not be benign. The country’s leaders insist that it is a peaceful nuclear
power plant, but it could be used to produce weapons-grade nuclear materials. In today’s world,
scenarios like this are a reality.


Gary Webb of Sandia National Laboratories makes some final payload checks on the
Sandia-integrated Multispectral Thermal Imager satellite, seen here without its four fold-out solar
panels. (Photo by Randy Montoya)