It was not known how to assess accurately losses in a communications link due to photodetector blocking, a phenomenon wherein a detector is rendered inactive for a short time after the detection of a photon. When used to detect a communications signal, blocking leads to losses relative to an ideal detector, which may be measured as a reduction in the communications rate for a given received signal power, or an increase in the signal power required to support the same communications rate. This work involved characterizing blocking losses for single detectors and arrays of detectors.

Blocking may be mitigated by spreading the signal intensity over an array of detectors, reducing the count rate on any one detector. A simple approximation was made to the blocking loss as a function of the probability that a detector is unblocked at a given time, essentially treating the blocking probability as a scaling of the detection efficiency.

An exact statistical characterization was derived for a single detector, and an approximation for multiple detectors. This allowed derivation of several accurate approximations to the loss. Methods were also derived to account for a rise time in recovery, and non-uniform illumination due to diffraction and atmospheric distortion of the phase front.

It was assumed that the communications signal is intensity modulated and received by an array of photon-counting photodetectors. For the purpose of this analysis, it was assumed that the detectors are ideal, in that they produce a signal that allows one to reproduce the arrival times of electrons, produced either as photoelectrons or from dark noise, exactly. For single detectors, the performance of the maximum-likelihood (ML) receiver in blocking is illustrated, as well as a maximum-count (MC) receiver, that, when receiving a pulse-position- modulated (PPM) signal, selects the symbol corresponding to the slot with the largest electron count.

Whereas the MC receiver saturates at high count rates, the ML receiver may not. The loss in capacity, symbol-errorrate (SER), and count-rate were numerically computed. It was shown that the capacity and symbol-error-rate losses track, whereas the count-rate loss does not generally reflect the SER or capacity loss, as the slot-statistics at the detector output are no longer Poisson. It is also shown that the MC receiver loss may be accurately predicted for dead times on the order of a slot.

This work was done by Bruce E. Moision and Sabino Piazzolla of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. NPO-48411

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the July, 2012 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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