Clarkson University engineers partner with Ball Aerospace on NASA’s next-generation satellites
Over the past four years, the research lab of Clarkson University electrical and computer engineering professor David Crouse has been working with Phoebus Optoelectronics and Ball Aerospace on materials to enable more compact and high-performance imaging systems. for NASA satellites.
Crouse is also chairman of Phoebus Optoelectronics, which he founded in 2003 to bring technologies from his research labs to industry. The small company, located in Ithaca, NY, focuses on the custom design and development of advanced materials and devices in the technology areas of metamaterials, photonic crystals and plasmonic crystals.
Crouse’s research team develops metamaterials, which are materials engineered to have a property not found in natural materials. They will be used in NASA’s satellite hyperspectral imaging systems, which collect and process information from across the electromagnetic spectrum to find objects, identify materials or detect processes.
“The metamaterial filter we are developing will enable the miniaturization of advanced light filtering, which is required for atmospheric sensing and monitoring, from today’s state-of-the-art refrigerator-sized systems to the size of a computer chip,” said Crouse. “Our chip-sized metamaterial can be custom-designed for each application based on its needs. It is much cheaper, smaller and lighter, it is much more tolerant of shock and vibration encountered during flight. spatial, and it requires much less energy to operate.”
The research team first received a major NASA Advanced Component Technology (ACT) grant to develop a Human Systems Integration (HSI) system for NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office. The program went well, resulting in a working prototype that demonstrated the improved performance of the new metamaterial.
In November, the project moved to the next level of NASA’s program – the Instrument Incubation Program (IIP). The IIP starts where the ACT left off, taking technology from the lab demonstration and developing it into a working instrument that can be put on future NASA missions.
The NASA grant is approximately $4.5 million and could lead to other NASA programs for the Clarkson team.
“It brings our team into the development process for NASA’s next satellites,” Crouse says. “We are integrating features that will enable the technology for a whole new generation of satellites and drones. We are continually developing proposals for additional NASA projects, always in partnership with a major partner company to perform system/instrument integration, Phoebus and Clarkson focusing on the key innovation, namely the metamaterial chip.”
NASA is a member of the National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research Center for Metamaterials, which Crouse founded more than a decade ago with Professor Michael Fiddy of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The center designs, manufactures and tests a wide range of metamaterials and has facilitated numerous contacts for university researchers. “We come up with ideas about the technology that will be needed now and in the future and we design innovative solutions,” says Crouse.
Crouse’s Clarkson team continues to work with many other major aerospace companies and government organizations such as Ball Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Raytheon Vision Systems, Harris, Teledyne, Goodrich and AER Corporation, as well as the US Air Force, the US Navy, US Army, National Science Foundation and US Department of Defense Missile Defense Agency and Chemical and Biological Defense Agency.
“We always have a large enterprise partner working with us on these technology development projects,” Crouse says. “They bring a lot of marketing experience to the table.”
Next, Crouse proposed an interdisciplinary “Space Instrument Development Group” at Clarkson, which would bring together faculty researchers from across campus to collaborate with the University’s aerospace industry partners. The group would focus on more research on the development of next-generation space instruments for NASA and commercial entities.
“One of our goals is to take the research from the project we’re now sending off campus and be able to do it within our own research groups right here at Clarkson,” Crouse says.
Research experience is an important element in the education of Clarkson undergraduate and graduate students. Electrical and computer engineering doctoral student Igor Bendoym, who has worked with Crouse on this research for more than a decade, will graduate in May.
“While at Phoebus, Dr. Bendoym was the principal investigator of the NASA ACT project, gaining a level of research experience that is rare for a doctoral student,” Crouse says.
Bendoym first worked with Crouse as an undergraduate researcher at the City College of New York, then joined Phoebus as principal optical designer. In 2017, he joined Crouse’s academic lab at Clarkson as a PhD. student researcher, while continuing to work for Phoebus.