Photonics/Optics

Large-Area, Polarization-Sensitive Bolometer for Multi-Mode Optics

This type of detector will be used by the PIXIE mission to map the microwave sky in polarization, opening a new window to the earliest moments of the universe.

Polarization-sensitive bolometer measures linear polarization of the cosmic microwave background. (Left) Prototype detector. The absorber in the central square fills a small fraction of the optical area, but is opaque to microwaves. (Center) Schematic diagram showing the absorbing wires and sensing thermistors. (Right) Photomicrograph showing absorbing wires and the crystalline silicon end bank.

Measurements of the cosmic microwave background are a powerful probe of the early universe. Part-per-million fluctuations in the intensity of background trace the initial conditions of matter and energy shortly after the Big Bang, mapping the large-scale structure of spacetime. Now, new measurements in linear polarization at sensitivities of a few parts per billion can look behind these initial conditions to test physics at energies a trillion times higher than terrestrial accelerators, and perhaps even provide a glimpse of quantum gravity in action.

Posted in: Briefs, Photonics, Measurements, Optics, Radiation
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Autonomous Driving — In a ‘Flash’

By combining CMOS technology with avalanche photodiodes, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems IMS (Duisburg, Germany) have developed a potentially cost-effective sensor prototype that aims to support driverless car applications. The “Flash LiDAR” could play a valuable role alongside the cameras, radars, and other components within autonomous vehicles.

Posted in: Application Briefs, Imaging, Photonics, Lidar, Sensors and actuators, Product development, Semiconductors, Autonomous vehicles
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ViDAR Optical Radar Provides New Maritime Search Capability

ViDAR, developed by Sentient Vision Systems in Melbourne Australia, provides autonomous, real-time, wide-area search capability, optically, from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or manned aircraft. ViDAR, which stands for Visual Detection and Ranging, essentially acts as an optical radar, using high-megapixel video or infrared cameras to search the ocean over significantly greater operational coverage areas than can be achieved with current optical sensor approaches.

Posted in: Application Briefs, Imaging, Photonics, Optics, Surveillance, Performance upgrades, Product development, Fixed-wing aircraft, Unmanned aerial vehicles
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Infrared Cameras Support Advanced 3D Printing Efforts

Additive manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, is quite literally one of the most innovative technologies revolutionizing manufacturing today, in terms of both industry “buzz” and thermal properties. Unlike subtractive manufacturing methods such as machining, the growing range of AM technologies creates components directly from a computer model, adding material only where needed. Wohlers Associates, a leading independent consulting firm focused on these technologies, is forecasting that the value of the worldwide AM market will grow to more than $10.8 billion by 2021, up from just $2.2 billion in 2012. That rapid escalation, however, isn't the result of hobbyists buying desktop 3D printers that cost a few hundred dollars.

Posted in: Articles, Cameras, Imaging, Photonics, CAD, CAM, and CAE, Optics, Market research, Technical review, Additive manufacturing
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Researchers Turn iPhone Camera into Optical Sensor

By integrating an optical Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems, or MEMS, chip into an iPhone camera, researchers at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland have developed a new, cost-effective kind of hyperspectral technology. The spectral device will provide mobile device users and consumers with new ways to monitor their environments, including quick food analysis, health checks, and other Internet-connected sensing. Research team leader Anna Rissanen works actively with companies to enable commercialization and new business development based on the team's various sensors.

Posted in: Articles, Optics, Sensors, Microelectromechanical devices, Optics, Sensors and actuators, Research and development
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Photonic Choke-Joints for Dual-Polarization Waveguides

The joint is constructed from a conductive metal, and requires no maintenance or peripheral equipment to operate.

Photonic choke-joint (PCJ) structures for dual-polarization waveguides have been investigated at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center for use in device and component packaging. This interface enables the realization of a high-performance, non-contacting waveguide joint without degrading the in-band signal propagation properties. The choke properties of two tiling approaches — symmetric square Cartesian and octagonal quasi-crystal lattices of metallic posts — are explored and optimal PCJ design parameters are presented. For each of these schemes, the experimental results for structures with finite tilings demonstrate near ideal transmission and reflection performance over a full waveguide band.

Posted in: Briefs, Photonics, Electronic equipment, Waveguides, Product development
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Smart Optical Material Characterization System and Method

This technology creates a flexible, unified platform for dynamic smart optical material evaluation.

NASA's Langley Research Center has developed an adaptable and powerful interferometric test platform that uniquely enables multi-parameter evaluation of a wide variety of smart optical materials (SOM). The patent-pending SOM characterization system was created to measure the dynamic optical response of stimuli-responsive (“smart”) optical materials while external physical/electrical/thermal/chemical/pressure/magneto stimuli are applied to the material. Using novel interferometric fringe analysis software and a multi-stimuli-capable SOM test cell, the SOM characterization system enables a wide variety of materials — such as liquid crystals, nonlinear crystals, electro- and thermo-active polymer optics, and magneto- or piezo-driven optics — to be optically characterized for real-time changes in intensity, phase, and polarization. The versatility of the SOM test platform combined with the powerful, efficient, and user-friendly software interface makes it a valuable tool for the research or commercial development of smart materials.

Posted in: Briefs, Photonics, Computer software and hardware, Optics, Materials identification, Smart materials, Test equipment and instrumentation
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Compact Planar Microwave Blocking Filters

Innovators at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center have designed, fabricated, and characterized absorptive thermal blocking filters for cryogenic microwave applications. The device allows direct integration of the high-frequency signal and microwave readout, and mitigates spurious resonances in the circuit response. This leads to improved electrical performance and a reduction in the required circuit area. The transmission line filter's input characteristic impedance is designed to match 50 ohms and its response has been validated from 0 to 50 GHz. The observed return loss in the 0 to 20 GHz design band is greater than 20 dB and shows graceful degradation with frequency. The filter's response is calculable, repeatable under cryogenic cycling, and is capable of providing an intrinsically broadband matched impedance termination.

Posted in: Briefs, Photonics, Electrical systems, Thermal management, Product development, Insulation
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System and Method for Generating a Frequency-Modulated Linear Laser Waveform

Applications include manufacturing equipment, robotics, surveillance and security, military imaging, and spectroscopy.

NASA's Langley Research Center has made a breakthrough improvement in laser frequency modulation. Frequency modulation technology has been used for surface mapping and measurement in sonar, radar, and time-of-flight laser technologies for decades. Although adequate, the accuracy of distance measurements made by these technologies can be improved by using a high-frequency triangular-waveform laser instead of a sine waveform or lower-frequency radio or microwaves. This new system generates a triangular modulation waveform with improved linearity that makes possible precision laser radar (light detection and ranging [lidar]) for a variety of applications.

Posted in: Briefs, Photonics, Lidar, Performance upgrades
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Systems and Methods for Mirror Mounting with Minimized Distortion

The use of larger, lighter, and more precise space optics requires not only a means of manufacture, but also a means of spacecraft integration and performance verification. Engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) have demonstrated a process capable of producing a high-precision, mounted, lightweight mirror, and have validated its on-orbit figure. This effort included the design of a mount capable of surviving the launch environment of a sounding rocket, as well as a mounting process that did not introduce performance-degrading figure distortion. Additionally, analysis techniques were developed and adapted to address the challenges in measuring an optic that exceeds its figure specification under the strain of its own weight.

Posted in: Briefs, Photonics, Mirrors, Optics, Mountings, Durability, Lightweighting
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