NASA recently announced contract awards in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which selected 120 projects that will receive a combined total of $72 million. One of the recipients, Intevac Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., received an award of just over a half-million dollars for the further development of a near-infrared photon-counting camera for high-sensitivity astronomical observation.The sensor is of interest to NASA because it’s used to probe dark energy, which is the objective of the 2011 launch of the Joint Dark Energy Mission sponsored by NASA and the US Department of Energy. The camera’s sensor can capture high-resolution spectral signatures in the wavelength range of 0.9 to 1.7 μm that come from very faint extrasolar targets and events. According to Leslie M. Tack, director of business development at Intevac, NASA was the first customer for the original camera. After being granted a Phase I award, the company produced a model and, in Phase II, it will improve the performance of the sensor by reducing the noise floor, making it more applicable for probing deep space. The objective is to determine the best epitaxial design for maximum quantum efficiency and reduced dark current.