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Research & Development

NASA awards grant to NLM Photonics to work with AIM Photonics

10 Oct 2023

For the development of “hybrid organic electro-optical modulation” for space applications.

Seattle, WA-based NLM Photonics, a developer of photonics solutions for networking, computing, and sensing, has been awarded a NASA STTR Phase I Grant.

The grant will fund a 13-month project with U.S. manufacturing innovation institute AIM Photonics focusing on low-power, high-bandwidth electro-optic (EO) modulation for spacecraft applications, utilizing silicon-organic hybrid EO modulators and considering the environmental extremes of space. Financial details of the grant were not disclosed

“We are very excited to work with NASA to explore space applications of our hybrid organic EO technology,” said Dr. Scott Hammond, NLM’s Director of Process Development and Principal Investigator for the project. “This grant will strengthen our relationship with AIM Photonics and accelerate the integration of our technology on AIM’s silicon photonics platform.

“We hope to build on these relationships to increase engagement with the U.S. government and defense sectors and use our technology to help solve critical national problems,” he added.

Silicon photonic integrated circuits

For Phase I, NLM and AIM Photonics will prototype SOH modulators on AIM’s active silicon photonics platform to provide samples for NASA and other customers. NLM has designed silicon photonic integrated circuits (PICs), which AIM Photonics will fabricate. NLM will incorporate its organic EO materials, optimize device performance, and identify the best-performing modulator designs.

To address a variety of application spaces and customer needs, these chips will include modulators targeting the 1550 nm (C-band) and 1310 nm (O-band) wavelength ranges. NLM will also assess technology challenges based on NASA’s specific requirements for space technology, such as radiation hardness, launch stresses, and wide thermal envelopes.

“Our mature silicon photonics platform is designed to enable rapid, low-cost fabrication for precisely this type of device optimization and sampling,” said Dr. Nicholas Fahrenkopf, AIM Photonics’ Engineering Manager. “Our flexible approach allows us to work with partners like NLM to conduct early-stage demos of their technology, which also helps us improve our learning cycles for further technology development.”

The grant work offers NLM and AIM Photonics potential opportunities for future collaborative projects between the companies and the agency, as well as other government agencies. SOH EO modulators are a leading solution for lower power, improved bandwidth, and more compact PICs in silicon photonics.

Potential applications range from communications – datacom, telecom, and satellite – to sensing (electric field and lidar) to hybrid electronic-photonic digital computing.

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