NASA STTR 2008 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 08-1 T4.01-9934
RESEARCH SUBTOPIC TITLE: Lidar, Radar and Coherent Fiber Budnle Arrays
PROPOSAL TITLE: Tunable, Narrow Line Width Mid-Infrared Laser Source

NAME: Maxion Technologies, Inc. NAME: University of Maryland
STREET: 5000 College Avenue Suite 3121 STREET: 3112 Lee Building
CITY: College Park CITY: College Park
STATE/ZIP: MD  20740 - 3817 STATE/ZIP: MD  20742 - 5141
PHONE: (301) 405-8426 PHONE: (301) 405-3684

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
John D. Bruno
5000 College Avenue Suite 3121
College Park, MD 20740 - 3817
(301) 405-6447

Expected Technology Readiness Level (TRL) upon completion of contract: 4 to 5

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT (Limit 2000 characters, approximately 200 words)
Maxion Technologies, Inc. (Maxion) and Professor Mario Dagenais and his group at the University of Maryland (UMD) jointly propose to develop a compact, efficient, single mode, narrow linewidth tunable laser source in the 3.2–to–3.6 micron wavelength region. This effort, if successful, will assist NASA in its trace gas detection objectives by supplying NASA with the most critical (and difficult to obtain) laser source required. During the Phase 1 portion of this effort, Maxion and UMD propose to: a) develop/demonstrate a low-loss IC laser design, b) develop ultra-low modal reflectivity anti-reflection (AR) output facets on interband cascade laser (ICL) gain chips, and c) validate the AR coating quality by demonstrating continuous tuning of an ECL using the high temperature, state-of-the-art AR-coated gain chip developed during this program. The low-loss ICL design is important to improve the maximum cw operating temperature of IC lasers, currently limited to near-room-temperature values. The ultra-low reflectivity coating will permit the maximum possible wavelength tuning range to be achieved. This is important as it will realize tunability throughout the widest possible range (the goal being 3.2-to-3.6 microns) using a single semiconductor laser chip. The new low-loss IC design and the ultra-low reflectivity output facet represent, together, the two central roadblocks Maxion sees to achieving a compact, tunable laser source in the mid-infrared wavelength region. Consequently, the Phase I effort will represent a feasibility study to see if our approaches to overcoming these two roadblocks can be successful.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
NASA requires LIDAR instruments and components for use in remote sensing measurements in future earth science missions. NASA particularly needs advanced components for direct-detection LIDAR instruments on new UAV platforms, on ground-based test beds, and eventually in space. For in-situ gas measurements using tunable laser spectrometers, available platforms such as aircraft, balloons, surface and entry probes and landed rovers impose severe limitations on instrument size, weight and power (SWAP). Tunable diode laser absorption spectroscopy is a simple measurement technique known for its high sensitivity (subparts per billion) and specificity, and potentially superior SWAP compared to competing technologies. For instance, tunable laser spectroscopy can measure the gas phase methane abundance down to 10 parts per trillion with pre-concentration and to 1 ppbv without pre-concentration. Measurement of the isotopic ratio of carbon-13 to carbon-12 in methane can help assess the biogenic origin of methane on Mars-like planets. Also important are sources for remote measurements of carbon-based trace gases (CO2, CH4, and CO) for total column measurements from aircraft and spacecraft operating to nadir using the earth's surface as a target, as well as for profiling measurements from the ground using atmospheric backscatter. These systems need tunable, narrow-line-width lasers and sensitive detectors that operate in the 1.5 micron, 1.6 micron and 3.2-3.6 micron wavelength bands.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
A tunable external cavity semiconductor laser using an interband cascade laser would present many commercial, non-NASA-specific applications. Presently, interband cascade lasers are the only semiconductor lasers that have achieved cw, room-temperature operation in the 3.2-to-3.6 micron wavelength band. The correspondence of this wavelength band with the spectroscopic "molecular fingerprints" of the hydrocarbon molecules, based on the carbon-hydrogen stretch resonance, present numerous applications for a widely tunable laser-based instrument. For example, sensitive methane and ethane concentration measurements are important in oil and natural gas exploration. Measurement of alcohol in exhaled breath or at surface-capillary points can obviously be important to law enforcement. Over 200 organic compounds have been detected in exhaled human breath and some of these compounds have been correlated to various diseases, including cancer. Suspected cancer biomarkers include ethane, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. Also, in-clinic measurement of certain gases in exhaled breath can be an important new medical diagnostic. For example, acetone in exhaled breath is linked to diabetes; ethane in exhaled breath has been correlated to oxidative stress and post-operative organ rejection. Thus, a widely tunable laser source is vital for realizing a small, portable, and inexpensive instrument that can sensitively detect hundreds of compounds throughout the 3.2-to-3.6 micron wavelength band.

NASA's technology taxonomy has been developed by the SBIR-STTR program to disseminate awareness of proposed and awarded R/R&D in the agency. It is a listing of over 100 technologies, sorted into broad categories, of interest to NASA.


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