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NASA awards grant for silicon photonics project

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NLM Photonics has been awarded a NASA grant to fund a 13-month project with AIM Photonics. The project will focus on low-power, high-bandwidth electro-optic (EO) modulation for spacecraft applications, utilising silicon-organic hybrid (SOH) EO modulators and considering the environmental extremes of space.

“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 defence sectors and use our technology to help solve critical national problems.”

For Phase I, NLM and AIM Photonics intend to 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 their organic EO materials, optimise device performance, and identify the best-performing modulator designs. The company says that, to address a variety of application spaces and customer needs, these chips 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 unique 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 optimisation 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. According to NLM, 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. NLM and AIM Photonics are excited to take on the distinctive challenges presented by NASA’s application.

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