Freeform gradient refractive index (GRIN) glass lenses for use at infrared (IR) wavelengths between 2 µm and 40 µm will be developed for use in high-performance infrared science missions. Designs will includine phase-dispersive and phase-correcting elements. To demonstrate the perforamnce, size, and weight benefits of freeform gradient-index infrared optics, inorganic infrared optical feedstock will be developed and characterized. The properties of gradient-index optics fabricated using additive-manufacturing processes will be measured and characterized. The measured optical properties will be used to update existing modeling and simulation tools, and the performance, size, weight, cost, and schedule impact of the technology will be quantified in candidate telescope designs.
The innovation has widespread application for NASA missions, such as those to detect and characterize the mid-infrared spectra of Earth-like exoplanets. The mid-infrared waveband provides a favorable planet/star contrast and key biosignatures, including those of water vapor, methane, oxygen, and carbon dioxide.
The infrared optics will directly benefit military infrared systems, including those head-, weapon-, UAV-, and vehicle-mounted. Other applications include thermography, industrial inspection, and medical. Visible variants of the innovation have applicability in cell phones, endoscopes and colonoscopes, LED solid-state lighting, military night-vision goggles, and riflescopes, among others.