Optics Industry Report

Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa, has inaugurated the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT; Sutherland, South Africa) at the South African Astronomical Observatory.

Jan 1st, 2006

South African president inaugurates SALT

Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa, has inaugurated the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT; Sutherland, South Africa) at the South African Astronomical Observatory. “SALT was an initiative of South African astronomers that won support from the South African government, not simply because it was a leap forward in astronomical technology, but because of the host of spin-off benefits it could bring to the country,” said project scientist David Buckley upon releasing SALT “first light” images in September.

SALT is an international partnership involving 11 partners from six countries, including Germany, Poland, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S. “Much of the original design concept for SALT was modeled on the Hobby-Eberly Telescope in Texas, giving a useful starting point and allowing SALT’s engineers to make creative use of the ‘lessons learned’ with the only previous telescope of this type,” said Kobus Meiring, project engineer.

SALT is the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere, and equal to the largest in the world. Gathering more than 25 times as much light as any existing African telescope, SALT can detect objects as faint as a candle flame on the moon.

Lumera awarded polymer modulator contract

The Pennsylvania State University Electro-Optics Center (EOC; Freeport, PA) has signed a contract with Lumera (Bothell, WA) for development of polymer-based electro-optic (EO) modulators for the detection of terahertz radiation. Lumera will deliver EO materials and modulators to the EOC. The contract is valued at approximately $400,000.

Polymer materials exhibit useful properties within the terahertz region that create a very promising opportunity for many types of noninvasive imaging where microwave techniques do not offer sharp enough resolution and x-rays are too dangerous. Lumera’s polymeric EO materials show advantages for broadband radio-frequency signal transmission up to the terahertz region because they achieve large bandwidth with low driving voltages and processing capabilities in arrays of communication devices with low crosstalk.

Deformable mirrors to go into space

Boston Micromachines (Watertown, MA), a provider of MEMS-based deformable mirror products for adaptive-optics systems, has been selected by NASA for a $600,000 Phase 2 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant to develop a deformable mirror suitable for space-based operation in systems for high-resolution imaging. The mirror will be fabricated through a combination of MEMS-based techniques using single-crystal silicon for all structural components.

Boston Micromachines and NASA have additional projects under way. Boston Micromachines is providing a high-resolution MEMS deformable mirror for The Planet Imaging Concept Testbed Using a Rocket Experiment (PICTURE) project, a collaboration of Boston University (Boston, MA), the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT; Cambridge, MA), and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. In this project, the objective is to obtain a direct image of an extrasolar giant planet. Its telescope, which uses Boston Micromachines’ MEMS mirror for wavefront control, will be launched from White Sands, NM, aboard a NASA sounding rocket in early 2007.

IPCA to speed photonics commercialization

A new international organization whose goal is to serve as an information and commercialization “portal” for the photonics industry made its official debut at the “Future of Light” meeting held at Boston University Photonics Center (Boston, MA) on Nov. 10, 2005. The International Photonics Commercialization Alliance (IPCA) is a not-for-profit organization that brings together international businesses, technology clusters, and government agencies to foster collaborations that will serve the photonics industry as a whole, according to Jim Frappier, IPCA spokesperson. “The IPCA is like a large toolbox that will enable the commercialization of photonics opportunities much more easily and more timely,” says Frappier. For more information about the IPCA and its events, go to www.ipcalliance.org.

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Also in the news . . .

Axsys Technologies (Rocky Hill, CT) received a $3.8 million follow-on -order from BAE Systems for infrared lenses for the U.S. Army Thermal Weapon Sight II program. . . . Archer OpTx (Rowlett, TX), a manufacturer of high-precision custom and catalog lenses, has secured $4.7 million in private funding to expand its production capacity. . . . Ball Aerospace (Boulder, CO) engineers, under contract to Northrop Grumman Space Technology (Redondo Beach, CA), are scheduled to complete by year-end an optical testbed that will simulate the focusing characteristics of NASAs James Webb Space Telescope as part of an effort to reduce risk in the program. . . . Janos Technology (Keene, NH), supplier of optical assemblies and infrared optics, has expanded its range of optical fabrication and testing services through the addition of a QED Technologies (Rochester, NY) subaperture stitching interferometer.

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