NASA SBIR 2003 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER:03-E1.02-9000 (For NASA Use Only - Chron: 034005)
SUBTOPIC TITLE:Lidar Remote Sensing
PROPOSAL TITLE:Turn-key Near-Infrared Photon-Counting Detector Module for LIDAR Applications

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Firm Name, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Sensors Unlimited, Inc.
3490 Route 1, Building 12
Princeton ,NJ 08540 - 5914
(609) 520 - 0610

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Keith   Forsyth
3490 Route 1, Building 12
Princeton ,NJ  08540 -5914
(609) 524 - 0234
U.S. Citizen or Legal Resident: Yes

We propose to design and deliver a turn-key photon counting detector module for near-infrared wavelengths, based on large-area InGaAs/InP avalanche photodiodes (APDs) that have been optimized for photon counting. The detector module will incorporate all of the essential photon-counting detector system elements: thermoelectric cooling, high-speed bias gating and avalanche quenching circuits, power supply, control and signal interfaces, optical fiber input, and a large-area APD. Previous near-infrared photon-counting systems have been severely limited by the use of commercially-available telecommunications-grade APDs, designed for linear operation at room temperature and low internal gain. These APDs are far from optimum for single photon counting at reduced temperature and very high internal gain. Work by our company has demonstrated that both quantum efficiency and pulse jitter can be greatly improved using APDs developed specifically for photon counting. During Phase I we will develop and deliver a prototype photon counting detector module optimized for low jitter and high single-photon quantum efficiency at wavelengths between 1.0 and 1.6 microns. During Phase II we will deliver a more advanced detector module having interchangeable APDs individually optimized for photon counting in the 1.0, 1.5, and 1.9 micron wavelength bands.

The proposed detector module will both improve the performance and reduce the cost of near-infrared photon counting techniques, facilitating wider adoption of these techniques in a variety of LIDAR applications. Coupling the detector module to a spectrometer will also allow near-infrared spectroscopy having unprecedented low-light-level sensitivity. With the addition of an output preamplifier, the detector module can also be used for analog-mode photon counting, enabling its use for free-space communication experiments over great distances.

Near-infrared single-photon counting is currently used in commercial semiconductor failure analysis instruments manufactured by several firms, but the testing time and sensitivity of these instruments is far from ideal due to the very low quantum efficiency of conventional near-infrared photon-counting detectors. A near-infrared photon-counting detector module with low dark count rate and high QE would be well received by this industry. Near-infrared photon counting also has great potential for room-temperature photoluminescence spectroscopy of III-V semiconductors, for commercial wind profile and air pollution monitoring LIDAR, and for chemical and biomedical spectroscopy generally, particularly as applied to low-photon-yield techniques such as Raman spectroscopy.