The objective of the proposed Phase 2 work is developing prototype non-mechanical single-aperture beam control systems for landing LiDARs. The system, capable of both Doppler and time-of-flight measurements, will enhance navigation precision and reliability while reducing size, weight, power consumption and enhancing reliability due to its all electronic nature. The Phase 1 of the project allowed demonstrating feasibility of such a versatile system while revealing advantages and disadvantages of different system architectures utilizing opportunities inherent to new generation optics principles. Several target performance characteristics have been met: wide angle steering with no mechanically moving parts; a few millimeter thick planar structure with 2” aperture sizes; small weight measured in grams; control voltages as small as 10V with millisecond switching times. The focus of the Phase 2 work is further increasing diffraction efficiency at large angles by improved cycloidal diffractive waveplates, and optimizing device architecture to ensure wavefront uniformity and high transmission of the device. Also, to prepare the prototype devices for field tests, the device architecture will be optimized for resistance to temperature variations as well as shock and vibration. Optimization will include electro-optical and thermodynamic properties of functional materials.
Guidance and auto-navigation systems, topology characterization for space vehicles with planetary landing missions, wind sensing and characterization, free-space optical communications between satellites and deep space optical communication – these are just a few of critical applications of the technology that allows fast steering of laser beams with no-mechanically moving parts. Enhance reliability higher precision navigation will enhance safety and security of NASA missions.
Non-NASA applications include auto-navigation systems for cars, drones, and robots. Non-mechanical beam steering can also be used for commercial free-space optical communications.