ECE professors Jonathan Klamkin and Larry Coldren research on energy-efficient photonics-based circuits featured in The UCSB Current article “Shrinking SWaP”

March 8th, 2018

illustration of swap
Engineers receive a NASA grant to design smaller, lighter, cheaper and more energy-efficient photonics-based circuits

If the parts in a satellite, a drone or other specialized device are large in size, weight and power consumption — in other words, if their SWaP is high — the device itself has to be bigger and heavier and is usually more expensive to build, launch or operate.

With a new grant, UC Santa Barbara engineers Jonathan Klamkin and Larry Coldren aim to reduce SWaP to improve performance. The pair has received one of 12 highly competitive NASA research awards to produce low-SWaP integrated microphotonic circuits for satellite-based Lidar applications. The three-year award is part of NASA’s $14 million Advanced Component Technology Program.

Lidar is a light-based remote-sensing method that uses a pulsing laser to map environments. Ultra-low SWaP photonic integrated circuits (PICs) are intended for precise measurements of atmospheric constituents such as carbon dioxide.

“Photonic integrated circuits can reduce SWaP dramatically — by several orders of magnitude — so they can be deployed on smaller spacecraft that cost much less and launch more frequently,” said Klamkin, an associate professor in UCSB’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The upshot is significantly more scientific measurements at substantially reduced cost.

“We are shrinking down a very capable system from the size of a small refrigerator to pocket size and making it perform even better,” he added. “That opens up a lot of doors, not only for space missions but also for other applications. For space specifically, you could map Earth’s carbon dioxide — or methane or other gases — by putting our technology on CubeSats — modular satellites consisting of one or more 10-by-10-by-10-cm cubes. Today, systems like this don’t fit on even large satellites.”

The UCSB Current – “Shrinking SWaP” (full article)

To learn more read: UCSB College of Engineering News – "Smaller SWaP, Bigger Performance" (full article)

Coldren and Kamkin's Optoelectronics Technology Center (OTC)