Optical design parameters for a ground-based infrared sensor rely strongly on the target’s optical radiation properties. Infrared (IR) optical observability and imaging simulations of an Earth entry vehicle were evaluated using a comprehensive numerical model. Based on a ground-based IR detection system, this model considered many physical mechanisms including thermochemical nonequilibrium reacting flow, radiative properties, optical propagation, detection range, atmospheric transmittance, and imaging processes. An orbital test vehicle (OTV) was selected as the research object for analysis of its observability using a ground-based infrared system. IR radiance contours, maximum detecting range (MDR), and thermal infrared (TIR) pixel arrangement were modeled. The results show that the distribution of IR radiance is strongly dependent on the angle of observation and the spectral band. Several special phenomena, including a strong receiving region (SRR), a characteristic attitude, a blind zone, and an equivalent zone, are all found in the varying altitude MDR distributions of mid-wavelength infrared (MWIR) and long-wavelength infrared (LWIR) irradiances. In addition, the possible increase in detectivity can greatly improve the MDR at high altitudes, especially for the backward and forward views. The difference in the peak radiance of the LWIR images is within one order of magnitude, but the difference in that of the MWIR images varies greatly. Analyses and results indicate that this model can provide guidance in the design of remote ground-based detection systems.
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