AOTFs in Asteroid Exploration
Dr. Jon Ward, Principal Scientist
Earlier this month Hayabusa2 asteroid exploration mission (funded by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched on a six year mission to collect geological samples from the (162173) 1999 JU3 asteroid – an Apollo or “near earth” asteroid. At the heart of the spectral analysis instrument on board is a Gooch & Housego Acousto-Optic Tunable Filter (AOTF). This will enable astrophysicists to gain an understanding of how our solar system was formed and has grown and how the primary organic materials of life on the Earth were composed and evolved by analysing the make-up of the asteroid.
Once the spacecraft has reached the asteroid it will hurl an impactor into the asteroid and create a crater into which it can deploy MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout). MicrOmega is an infrared spectrometer and the principle instrument on MASCOT and the G&H AOTF is the key component of the instrument that enables the acquisition of scenes at multiple wavelengths. It will enable the spectral analysis of the surface material of the asteroid which in turn will determine its composition. It scans across the infrared spectrum from 0·95µm to 3·65µm to produce a full 3-D image data-cube with 365 spectral channels.
G&H is uniquely qualified to contribute to the Hayabusa2 project given its experience in working with national and international space agencies and its reputation for engineering photionic solutions for harsh environments. The company’s space heritage has previously enabled vital contributions to projects such as NASA’s Mars Curiosity and ESA’s SMOS geo-monitoring program.
In this instance G&H’s reputation in acousto-optic technology made it a natural choice of partner for the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale (IAS), the Hyperspectral Imaging instrument project coordinators. Pushing the boundaries of technology in order to develop the best fit solution for specific applications is a routine requirement for G&H. In this instance the need was for controlled solid-state component capable of tuning over an extended wavelength range that is rugged with no moving-parts and compatible with operation in a vacuum whilst surviving and operating in a space environment.
Rigorous quality-control procedures are essential for the development and manufacture of components and assemblies destined to operate in a space environment. G&H has a track record of supplying critical components, assemblies and sub systems to aerospace and defense development programs in addition to space photonics projects. Research and development, design and manufacturing activity across the technologies the company operates with – acousto-optic, electro-optic, fiber-optic and precision optics – have all given the depth of knowledge and experience that enable G&H to make a critical contribution to these programs.