Smaller SWaP, Bigger Performance

Thursday, June 14, 2018

If the parts in a satellite, a drone, or other specialized device are large in Size, Weigh a lot, And consume Power inefficiently — in other words, if their SWaP is high — then the device itself will be bigger, heavier, and more expensive to build, launch, or operate, and that is not desirable.

A pair of UC Santa Barbara College of Engineering faculty have received a grant to develop Lidar photonic integrated circuits (PICs) that have ultra-low SWaP and are intended for precise measurements of atmospheric constituents such as carbon dioxide. 

Associate Professor Jonathan Klamkin and emeritus professor Larry Coldren, both in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, have received a highly competitive NASA research award to produce low-SWaP integrated micro-photonic circuits as part of the space agency’s $14 million Advanced Component Technology Program.

“Photonic integrated circuits can reduce SWaP dramatically — by several orders of magnitude — so they can be deployed on smaller spacecraft that cost much less and launch more frequently,” Klamkin says. “Today, systems like this don’t fit even on large satellites. The upshot is significantly more scientific measurements at substantially reduced cost.”

The Lidar PIC will enable spectroscopic measurements of Earth’s atmosphere with increased sensitivity and enable near-infrared (NIR) multi-wavelength analysis so that a single integrated device can be used to monitor carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

“The level of integration we are applying is well beyond what is available commercially,” Coldren said. “We are building an entire Lidar sensing system on a single chip, or at most, a few chips. The goal is to realize a pocket-size system for sensing CO2 that can be deployed on small spacecraft.”