Reconfigurable and adaptive hardware systems are essential parts of NASA applications due to the unavoidable uncertainties and variations due to extreme operational conditions, radiation effects, modifications of standard and requirements, varying user preferences and high development cost. Moreover, adaptability at the hardware level provides increased flexibility and capabilities. While electronic version of such systems is widely being used in NASA applications, they incur significant size, weight, and power, and cost (SWaP-C).
We propose a photonic reconfigurable hardware, Programmable Photonic Integrated Circuit (PIC), that will have significantly lower SWaP-C compared to electronic counterparts. The proposed programmable PIC will be fabricated using phase change materials (PCM) that enables non-volatile, compact, low-loss, and broadband switches that can be mass produced through well-established integrated circuit (IC) fabrication process.
In spite of the reduction in feature size that can affect resolution and bandwidth, the photonic platform will enable loss-less controlled passage of light and allow the PIC-based spectrometer to provide equal or higher efficiency compared to the state-of-the-art. Also, the compact integrated design will enable constructive augmentations that can improve efficiency without compromising on SWaP-C.
In Phase I, we will work on the design of the programmable PIC using a reduced order modeling (ROM) based simulation platform. We will calculate the performance characteristics, including the sensitivity to key design parameters, and derive guidelines for improved design.
In Phase II, we will optimize the design to meet NASA requirements, build a prototype, and experimentally verify the performance of programmable PIC, including as a function of radiation effects and temperature variations. Promising designs will be delivered to NASA.
The programmable PIC is aligned with multiple NASA 2020 Technology Taxonomy areas like TX05: Communications, Navigation, and Orbital Debris Tracking and Characterization Systems, TX08: Sensors and Instruments, TX10: Autonomous Systems, and TX17: Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GN&C). The ROM-based design and analysis software will be a Cross-Cutting capability that directly supports the efficient development, verification, and qualification of photonics-based instruments to meet a variety of NASA requirements across multiple missions.
The programmable PIC can be applied in a variety of fields that need reconfigurable and adaptive hardware systems. Some examples include developers of micro/nano-satellites, avionics, automotive, telecommunication, consumer electronics and industrial data processing.