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NASA Team Experimenting with Femtosecond Lasers

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GREENBELT, Md., Feb. 7, 2019 — An ultrafast laser that fires pulses of light 100 millionths of a nanosecond in duration could potentially revolutionize the way that NASA technicians manufacture and ultimately assemble instrument components made of dissimilar materials.

A team of optical physicists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., has been experimenting with a femtosecond laser and has already shown that it can effectively weld glass to copper and glass to glass, as well as drill hair-sized pinholes in different materials.

Now the group, led by optical physicist Robert Lafon, is expanding its research into more exotic glass such as sapphire and Zerodur, and metals such as titanium, Invar, Kovar, and aluminum — materials often used in spaceflight instruments. The goal is to weld larger pieces of these materials and show that the laser technology is effective at adhering windows onto laser housings and optics to metal mounts, among other applications.

With support from the Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Center Innovation Fund program, the group is also exploring the technology’s use in fabricating and packaging photonic integrated circuits, for uses ranging from communications and data centers to optical sensors. Photonic integrated circuits are fabricated on a mixture of materials, including silica and silicon, and use visible or IR light to transfer information.

“Ultrafast lasers offer fundamental changes in how we can microprocess materials,” said Ted Swanson, senior technologist for strategic integration at Goddard. “The team’s work on this research effort will allow Goddard to adapt this emerging technology to a wide variety of flight applications.”
Feb 2019
BusinessNASAGoddard Space Flight Centerfemtosecondlasersphotonic integrated circuitsRobert LafonpeopleopticsAmericas

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