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Photonics boosts space programmes.

Multiple photonics firms made announcements in July revealing their collaboration with space missions.

Lynred's Neptune infrared (IR) detector is on-board the Indian Chandrayaan-2 orbiter, launched on 22 July, which will explore the Moon's south polar region. In addition, Jenoptik's camera lenses are being used in Nasa's Mars 2020 mission, while iXblue's optical phase modulators have been integrated into the laser ranging interferometer of the Nasa GRACE-FO climate research mission.

Chandrayaan-2, which launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in India, is viewed as the Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO's) most complex mission to date, as it will be the first to explore the Moon's south polar region. The craft weighs 3,877kg and is expected to be in the Moon's orbit for a year, with its payload due to touch down on 7 September.

Lynred's Neptune detector will be used in an imaging IR spectrometer, one of 11 instruments on the Chandrayaan-2 payload. The spectrometer will conduct an in-depth onsite chemical analysis of the Moon, detecting the minerals and water molecules that make up the water-ice on its surface and sub-surface. Analysis of the composition and origin of such water-ice will be important objects of study for future space exploration and travel--as water is an essential ingredient for life.

The presence of water on the Moon was confirmed during the Chandrayaan-1 mission, which did not include a Lynred IR detector. For Chandrayaan-2, the Lynred IR detector was chosen for its capacity to increase the upper spectral limit to 5.3pm, up from 3pm on Chandrayaan-1, in order to improve observation capabilities.

Photonics out in force

Jenoptik also revealed in July that the first images to be sent back by the rover of Nasa's Mars 2020 mission in February 2021 will be seen through lenses designed, manufactured and tested, by the company.

The Jenoptik Light & Optics team, based in Jupiter, Florida, have produced three types of mission-critical lenses for use with the engineering cameras of the rover under development for the mission.

Navigation lenses will capture the first live video footage from the mission as the rover explores the surface of Mars, crucially important for when the rover drives autonomously.

Hazard avoidance lenses will provide images that will help the rover to identify obstacles and allow Nasa engineers to see the movement of the robotic arm during sample collection.

A cache lens will verify that a complete collection of the rock and soil samples have been achieved. Due to the cache lens' proximity to the samples collected, to avoid contamination, the cleanliness requirements are extremely challenging.

The optics firm had to develop custom test equipment in order to measure the optical performance of the lenses during the demanding temperature extremes they are expected to withstand on Mars. Several environmental tests were performed in a vacuum and over a wide temperature range, with the lowest temperature being -135[degrees]C.

Climate research

In addition to Lynred and Jenoptik's announcements, photonics firm iXblue also revealed that its optical phase modulators were integrated into the laser ranging interferometer of both satellites of the Nasa Grace-FO (Gravity-Recovery-and-Climate-Experiment Follow-On) mission launched in May last year. According to the firm, this is the first time that an optical interferometer will operate between two satellites.

The optical phase modulators are integrated into the laser frequency control and servo system of the laser ranging interferometer, which is used in the metrology instrumentation of the two satellites. The role of the optical phase modulators is to derive a control signal to stabilise the optical frequency of the laser, enabling the interferometer to make extremely precise measurements.

Grace-FO aims to continue the legacy of the Grace mission launched in March 2002, using near-identical hardware to track the movement of water and changes in surface mass across Earth. Measuring the redistribution and transport of mass (for example of ice sheets and glaciers, underground water storage, the amount of water in large lakes and rivers etc.) around Earth is an essential observation for understanding current and future changes of the Earth's hydrosphere and its subcomponents.

The laser ranging interferometer onboard the Grace-FO satellites--aided by iXblue's optical phase modulators--will be able to better and more efficiently measure and monitor these vital global mass transports.

The optical phase modulators are not the only iXblue technology on board the Grace-FO mission, according to the firm, as its Astrix inertial navigation system can also be found on each of the two satellites as payloads.
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Publication:Electro Optics
Date:Aug 1, 2019
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