The spectral responsivity of commercially available InSb detectors with low-pass cold filters attached to their cold shields for optimum operation in the 1.6–2.6 µm wavelength range is observed to drift slowly with time. These drifts are shown to arise because of a thin film of water–ice deposited on the cold low-pass filters mounted on the cold shields of the detectors. The temporal characteristics of these drifts are shown to strongly depend on wavelength. A model is proposed for the behavior of the water present in the Dewar vacuum, which can explain and predict the temporal characteristics of the observed drifts for all wavelengths. These observations are particularly relevant to space instruments that use cryogenically cooled IR filter radiometers for Earth observation. The temporal profile of drifts observed in missions such as Landsat-5 is identical to that observed in cryogenically cooled filtered InSb detectors during laboratory measurements. This study confirms that the deposition of a thin film of a material such as ice on the cold bandpass filters and windows is therefore the most likely source of the oscillatory drifts observed in the response of some of the channels of the ATSR-2, Landsat-4, and Landsat-5 Earth observation missions.
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