NASA's Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Program Office identified optical communications as an important technology for NASA missions, allowing enhanced volume and quality of data returned from the farthest reaches of space to be achieved in order to prepare for future human deep-space exploration missions. Although several missions have validated optical communications from low-Earth and geostationary orbit, the unique challenges of deep-space optical links still require separate risk-retiring technology demonstrations before implementing inner orbit communication. There a number of NASA applications benefiting from the innovation, including using the single-carrier multiplication (SCM) APD arrays for LADAR autonomous navigation, docking, and landing systems, and in LIDAR instruments for atmospheric sciences. The primary focus of this effort is to develop the SCM-APD for space optical communications.
The innovation will enable low-SWAP space-based, free-space optical communications, terrestrial freespace optical communication, charge particle detectors, photon-counting, automotive LADAR, LIDAR, altimetry, time-resolved spectroscopy, fluorescent decay measurements, single-photon detectors, and auto- and cross-correlation.