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Big Impact: Optics and Photonics In Space

Photonics Spectra
Nov 2013
Karen A. Newman, Group Publisher, karen.newman@photonics.com

In the movie Gravity, debris from an exploded satellite threatens everything in its path, from space-walking astronauts to the International Space Station. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) exhibits an inspiring tenacity, solving one catastrophe after another to return to Earth. An exploding satellite caused big problems in the movie, but we know orbiting debris is not just the stuff of Hollywood fiction.

In this issue, we present projects proposed and under way to apply photonic technologies that will allow a deeper look into space, prevent both asteroid-Earth impacts as well as space junk collisions, and create sensors for investigating dark energy in space.

In our cover story, “Big Photonics Advances Build and Power Big Telescopes,” Contributing Editor Hank Hogan explains that big mirrors bring two important benefits to space research: Collecting more photons means fainter objects can be studied; also, bigger mirrors should mean better resolution. Read the feature beginning on page 36.

Two projects to change the course of asteroids and orbiting debris are covered in “Space Lasers Set to Protect Earth, Project Data,” beginning on page 42. In this article, Contributing Editor Marie Freebody describes the DE-STAR mission to focus laser energy on asteroids to force them off course. She also discusses NASA Ames Research Center’s LightForce, which has been proposed to prevent collisions of orbiting space junk using photon pressure to nudge debris out of the way to avoid impact.

Projects including ESA’s Euclid mission – set to explore the “nature of dark energy and dark matter by accurate measurement of the accelerated expansion of the universe” – are driving innovation in CCD sensors. Designing image sensors for the Euclid mission “demonstrates the importance of customization for specialty uses and harsh environments,” according to Andy Grey of e2v. Read “CCD Sensors Tailored to Space Applications,” beginning on page 48.

Back down on Earth, Photonics Spectra was well represented last month at SPIE Optifab in Rochester, N.Y. This is the largest optical fabrication conference and exhibition in North America. This year, 165 exhibitors and nearly 100 technical papers were featured. Conference proceedings were to be published online in the SPIE Digital Library.

Optifab is co-sponsored by APOMA, the American Precision Optics Manufacturers Association. The organization’s 15th annual Photonics Clambake, held during Optifab, attracted a record crowd. Proceeds will allow grants to the two newest Rochester-area optics programs, one at Gates-Chili High School and the other at Greece Athena High School, according to Mike Naselaris of Sydor. Mike credits the success to the overwhelming support of event sponsors, and Photonics Media is proud to be among them.

At the invitation of President and CEO Andy Pomeroy, I visited DichroTec Thin Films’ local operation while in Rochester for Optifab, and learned a great deal about this company. With roots deep in Bausch & Lomb’s vacuum coatings business, it has been reinvented, changed hands and emerged from the recession as a provider of optical thin-film design, application and execution. My thanks to Andy and to all the Optifab exhibitors who shared their latest products and technologies during the event.

So many companies worldwide have shown Dr. Stone-like tenacity to advance optical fabrication to new levels of achievement. These companies now support the exploration of deepest, darkest space and the safety of Earth.

We hope you enjoy the issue.


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