Tech Briefs

This system is applicable in HVAC, methane production plants, and oil refineries.

Leak detection and location remain a common problem in NASA and industry, where gas leaks can create hazardous conditions if not quickly detected and corrected. In order to help rectify this problem, this design equips an infrared (IR) camera with the means to make gas leaks of IR-absorbing gases more visible for leak detection and location.

The Two-Camera Version of the Infrared Camera System features two cameras with essentially the same view and time.
By comparing the output of two IR cameras (or two pictures from the same camera under essentially identical conditions and very closely spaced in time) on a pixel-by-pixel basis, one can cancel out all but the desired variations that correspond to the IR absorption of the gas of interest. This can be simply done by absorbing the IR lines that correspond to the gas of interest from the radiation received by one of the cameras by the intervention of a filter that removes the particular wavelength of interest from the “reference” picture. This can be done most sensitively with a gas filter (filled with the gas of interest) placed in front of the IR detector array, or (less sensitively) by use of a suitable line filter in the same location.

This arrangement would then be balanced against the unfiltered “measurement” picture, which will have variations from IR absorption from the gas of interest. By suitable processing of the signals from each pixel in the two IR pictures, the user can display only the differences in the signals. Either a difference or a ratio output of the two signals is feasible. From a gas concentration viewpoint, the ratio could be processed to show the column depth of the gas leak. If a variation in the background IR light intensity is present in the field of view, then large changes in the difference signal will occur for the same gas column concentration between the background and the camera. By ratioing the outputs, the same signal ratio is obtained for both high- and low-background signals, even though the low-signal areas may have greater noise content due to their smaller signal strength. Thus, one embodiment would use a ratioed output signal to better represent the gas column concentration.

An alternative approach uses a simpler multiplication of the filtered signal to make the filtered signal equal to the unfiltered signal at most locations, followed by a subtraction to remove all but the wavelength-specific absorption in the unfiltered sample. This signal processing can also reveal the net difference signal representing the leaking gas absorption, and allow rapid leak location, but signal intensity would not relate solely to gas absorption, as raw signal intensity would also affect the displayed signal.

A second design choice is whether to use one camera with two images closely spaced in time, or two cameras with essentially the same view and time. The figure shows the two-camera version. This choice involves many tradeoffs that are not apparent until some detailed testing is done. In short, the tradeoffs involve the temporal changes in the field picture versus the pixel sensitivity curves and frame alignment differences with two cameras, and which system would lead to the smaller variations from the uncontrolled variables.

This work was done by Robert Youngquist and Dale Lueck of Kennedy Space Center and Christopher Immer and Robert Cox of ASRC Aerospace Corporation. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at under the Physical Sciences category. KSC-13207

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).

Infrared Camera System for Visualization of IR-Absorbing Gas Leaks (reference KSC-13207) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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