PSI will create a platform for highly sensitive laser-based sensors on a chip-like platform suitable for packaging in a housing comparable to a cell phone and amenable to volume production. The proposed sensor platform will be directly applicable to NASA CubeSat space exploration missions. Although TDLAS technology is not much more complex than that of CD players, currently the smallest and lowest cost available TDLAS sensors weigh about 1.5 kg and cost ~$10,000. The high cost results from using: 1) laser packages produced in relatively low volumes yielding costs of greater than $1000 each; 2) bulk optical components; 3) control and acquisition electronics built from commercial discrete components. These costs limit TDLAS applications to low-volume markets where the expensive sensor provides an economic payback. The NASA need for sensors of low size, weight, and power provides an opportunity to develop and apply novel manufacturing techniques that overcome these cost barriers.
Success in project Phases I-III will lead to a new paradigm for highly sensitive and selective laser-based gas sensors. These sensors will be designed for high volume manufacturing using established micromachining or semiconductor fabrication techniques at costs enabling widespread deployment. While this proposal specifically addresses NASA planetary exploration mission needs for trace-gas detection, the products deriving from this technology can also address applications including wide-area networked sensing of toxic industrial chemicals and chemical weapons, greenhouse gas measurement networks, and other industrial, commercial, medical, environmental and consumer applications for trace gas sensors where cost, size, and complexity currently hinder widespread acceptance. Defense and Homeland Security applications of unattended ground sensors may also be supported by results of this project.