The Pentagon's research division, DARPA, has commissioned defense contractor Lockheed Martin to develop a sensor system that can locate and identify underground targets -- with a little help from gravity.
The prototype sensor and system is for DARPA's Gravity Anomaly for Tunnel Exposure, or GATE, program. The mission? To "detect, classify, and characterize subterranean threats such as tunnels, bunkers, and caches."
At the center of the sensor system is a gravity gradiometer, which measures tiny variations in gravitational forces. By detecting variations, the sensor can identify a man-made void from naturally-occurring topographical features.
In other words: a near real-time map of what's underground from an airborne vehicle.
"Our expertise in gravity gradiometers will help increase the capability to detect and characterize subterranean tactical threats by its anomalous gravity signature," said James Archibald, general manager of Lockheed's New York-based Niagara Operation, in a statement. "This capability will help prevent both underground infiltration of secure perimeters and tactical underground operations, keeping our assets and troops protected."
Gravity gradiometers have previously been used to explore natural resources, particularly those underground. Variations in density hint at geologic structures that may reveal a simply void -- or a deposit of ore, oil or gas that's of interest to energy firms in search of the next hydrocarbon cache.
Lockheed Martin will develop the sensor and system's conceptual design in a 12-month contract. If it's to DARPA's liking, Lockheed will be contracted for 18 months to produce a prototype system.
Illustration: Lockheed Martin
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com