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Lockheed Martin Reveals Images From PIC-based Experimental Telescope

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Ultra-thin optical instrument could shrink space telescopes by 90 percent and has applications for UAVs and other vehicles

Lockheed Martin has revealed the first images from an experimental, ultra-thin optical instrument, showing it could be possible to shrink space telescopes to a tiny fraction of the size of today's systems, while maintaining equivalent resolution.

The Segmented Planar Imaging Detector for Electro-Optical Reconnaissance (SPIDER) uses a technique called interferometric imaging It has 30 tiny lenses (each smaller than a millimeter across) that feed optical data into a photonic integrated circuit (PIC), where the data is divided and recombined.

The PIC was originally designed for telecommunications at the University of California, Davis but Lockheed Martin researchers have unlocked new potential for ultra-thin telescopes using them on a different way.

In the first tests, an optical system simulated the distance from space to the ground, where scenes were illuminated and rotated. The first image included a standard bar test pattern, and the second image showed the overhead view of a complex rail yard. Below are targets of two images on the left of each pair and the image reconstructions using SPIDER on the right (in millimeters).

Weighing 90 percent less than a typical telescope, the SPIDER opens a path for extremely lightweight optical instruments, allowing for more hosted payloads or smaller spacecraft. As well as telescopes, the technology has applications for aircraft and other vehicles, according to Lockheed Martin - anywhere that depends on small optical sensors. The future could see UAVs with imagers laid flat underneath their wings, and cars could have imaging sensors that are flush against their grills.



"This is generation-after-next capability we're building from the ground up," said Scott Fouse, vp of Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Centre (ATC). "Our goal is to replicate the same performance of a space telescope in an instrument that is about an inch thick. That's never been done before. We're on our way to make space imaging a low-cost capability so our customers can see more, explore more and learn more."

The lenses and PIC comprise one section of a full instrument to be assembled in the next project phase. The team plans to increase the resolution and field of view in future phases.

The SPIDER project has roots in research funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Lockheed Martin independently completed this phase of research at its Advanced Technology Center (ATC).

The initial findings from this project were presented today at the Pacific Rim Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO-Pacific Rim) in Singapore.


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