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Center Independent Research & Development: JPL IRAD

Chip-Scale Heterodyne Spectrometers for Cubesats and Small Landers

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

Development of chip-size remote sensors for measuring atmospheric molecules and meteorology on Earth and on other planets.  We specifically target usage on future interplanetary small platforms (e.g. smallsats, small landers).

The chip spectrometer operates on the principle of heterodyne detection.  Heterodyne spectrometers offer ultra-high spectral resolution, without bulky dispersive elements or moving parts, and shot-noise-limited SNR (signal-to-noise ratio).  Moreover, the chip spectrometer utilizes microfabrication to produce on-chip arrays wherein each array element (pixel) is a heterodyne spectrometer.  Depending on the measurement objective, these on-chip nano-spectrometers can be configured either as spatial imaging pixels to enable imaging, or as spectral pixels for increasing spectral coverage.  The chip detector resides in the focal plane of a mini-telescope to detect sunlight that has propagated through the planetary atmosphere.  Amplitudes of absorption lines observed in the sunlight indicate molecular abundances, while ratios between different rotational-vibrational lines indicate atmospheric temperatures.  Additionally, Doppler shifts in line-center wavelengths indicate wind speeds.

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