Boston Micromachines Corporation (BMC), a provider of MEMS-based deformable mirror (DM) products for adaptive optics systems, has been awarded a Phase 1 contract for $100,000 by NASA's Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) to support space-based imaging research.
Space-based telescopes have become indispensible in advancing the frontiers of astrophysics. Over the past decade Nasa has pioneered coronagraphic instrument concepts and test beds to provide a foundation for exploring feasibility of coronagraphic approaches to high-contrast imaging and spectroscopy. From this work, Nasa has identified a current technology need for compact, ultra-precise, multi-thousand actuator DM devices.
The Phase 1 project is for the development of a reliable, fault-tolerant microelectromechanical deformable mirror (MEMS-DM) technology, which will fill a critical gap in Nasa's roadmap for future coronagraphic observatories. To achieve this BMC will implement two innovative, complementary modifications to the manufacturing process. The team will develop a drive electronics approach that inherently limits actuator electrical current density generated to prevent permanent failure when a short time frame single fault failure occurs, as well as modify the actuator design to mitigate failure due to adhesion between contacting surfaces of the actuator flexure and fixed base.
'Space based astronomical imaging systems are inherently challenged by the need to achieve diffraction-limited performance with relatively lightweight optical components. Given the current constraints on fabrication methods, a new manufacturing technique is required to increase reliability and prevent single actuator failures,' said Paul Bierden, president and co-founder of Boston Micromachines. 'This project will result in innovative advances in component design and fabrication and substantial progress in the development of high-resolution deformable mirrors suitable for space-based operation.'
This Phase 1 award is part of NASA's Small Business Innovation Research programmes. The highly competitive programmes afford small businesses the chance to propose unique ideas that meet specific research and development needs of the government. The criteria used to choose these winning proposals include technical merit and feasibility, experience, qualifications, effectiveness of the work plan and commercial potential.