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Mass High Tech | June 08, 2011
NASA Awards Contracts to Boston Micromachines Corporation to Develop Next Generation Technology for Space Astronomy

CAMBRIDGE, MA – Boston Micromachines Corporation (BMC)a leading provider of MEMS-based deformable mirror (DM) products for adaptive optics systems, announced today that it has been awarded $1.2M in contracts by NASA's Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) to support space-based imaging research. The Phase II contracts were awarded after the successful completion of Phase I projects and will expand upon those results. The criteria used to select the winning proposals included technical merit and innovation, Phase I results, value to NASA, commercial potential and company capabilities.

The first Phase II project is to develop compact, ultra-low-power, high-voltage multiplexed drive electronics suitable for integration with Boston Micromachines' DMs in space-based wavefront control applications. This project will scale up the innovative driver circuit for DMs that BMC developed previously for NASA in support of the Terrestrial Planet Finder Mission. The project aims for a tenfold reduction in size and power and a significant decrease in interconnection complexity while maintaining the high precision required for high contrast exoplanet detection.

The second Phase II project is the design and fabrication of a MEMS micromirror array consisting of 1021 ultra-flat, close-packed hexagonal mirror elements. Each segment is capable of tip, tilt, and piston (TTP) motion with sub-nanometer precision as required for a space-based telescope using a hyper-contrast coronagraph for terrestrial planet finding. The micromachined deformable mirror (DM) will be fabricated using innovative manufacturing processes and micromirror opto-electro-mechanical designs that were demonstrated successfully in previous NASA-funded efforts. This large array of mirror segments with 3 degrees of freedom and λ/100 optical quality would constitute a significant technological advance and would become an enabling component for high contrast visible nulling coronagraph instruments planned for exoplanet imaging missions.

"High-resolution wavefront correction with deformable mirrors is essential for all telescope architectures to be used in NASA's ongoing search for extrasolar planets. However, a new generation of DM systems are required to be compatible with the size, weight, and power constraints of space-based telescopes," said Paul Bierden, president and co-founder of Boston Micromachines. "Our new deformable mirrors paired with multiplexed drive electronics will provide a compelling solution that fills this critical technology gap in space-based imaging instruments to be used in NASA's search for exoplanets."

The awards were part of NASA's Small Business Innovation Research programs. The highly competitive programs afford small businesses the chance to propose unique ideas that meet specific research and development needs of the government. The criteria used to choose these winning proposals include technical merit and feasibility, experience, qualifications, effectiveness of the work plan and commercial potential.