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SpaceRef | December 19, 2011
NASA Awards Boston Micromachines Grant for Research to Improve Imaging of Earth-Sized Extra-Solar Planets

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 a Phase 1 contract for $125,000 by NASA's Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) to support exoplanet imaging research.

One of NASA's core objectives is to explore earth-like planets outside of our solar system. Space telescope optics cannot be shaped to the precision required for imaging of small earth-sized planets, and therefore DMs must be used to correct for the residual aberrations resulting from initial fabrication and slowly changing mechanical deformations of the deployed primary mirror. This grant will enable Boston Micromachines to develop processes and manufacturing innovations that will improve the ability of DMs to correct for these residual aberrations resulting in reduced glare in imaging systems used in the search for earth-sized planets.

In this Phase 1 project Boston Micromachines will develop and demonstrate an innovative microfabrication process to substantially improve the surface quality achievable in high-resolution continuous-membrane MEMS DMs. The project goals include at least twofold improvement in small-scale surface flatness in comparison to the current state-of-the-art, and corresponding reductions in diffraction.

"The improvements in DM fabrication technology proposed in this project will help astronomers achieve their goal of imaging earth-like planets in other solar systems," said Paul Bierden, president and co-founder of Boston Micromachines. "In addition, this research has potential impact on commercial applications such as optical communications, surveillance, pulse shaping, and biological imaging." This Phase 1 award is 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.