G&H Acousto-Optic Tunable Filters (AOTFs) Launch into Space

Ilminster, 1 October 2018
Jon Ward, Principal Scientist, Gooch & Housego
Jon Ward, Principal Scientist

Gooch & Housego is adept at supplying optical components and sub-systems for demanding applications, including acousto-optic devices for operation in a space environment. Acousto-optic tunable filters (AOTFs) have attracted particular attention; their solid-state technology (no moving-parts) and high speed, coupled with random-access tuning, make them well suited to these applications.

ESA ExoMars mission Trace Gas Orbiter
ESA ExoMars mission Trace Gas Orbiter                        Courtesy of ESA

Using G&H’s considerable expertise and know-how we have engineered the AOTFs that are the key components of a number of spectrometer instruments currently flying. In addition, we are working with a number of groups worldwide who are developing new instruments for imaging spectroscopy. G&H is particularly well-placed to develop and supply the large-aperture AOTFs which are the key to making these systems workable.

G&H AOTFs are key components for the SuperCam, NOMAD and Micromega instruments deployed or being deployed on the NASA Mars 2020 Rover, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) ExoMars programme and the JAXA Hayabusa 2 asteroid exploration mission. The AOTFs are made from TeO2 and typically operate in the infrared (IR) for these applications. In addition, G&H is currently developing imaging AOTFs to operate in the visible (VIS) and short-wave infrared (SWIR) regions as well as the IR for future missions.

ESA’s ExoMars program aims to analyze the Martian environment and provide answers on the possibility of life on Mars. The 2016 mission consists of the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli; an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module (EDM). TGO carries the NOMAD instrument, which combines three spectrometers to perform high-sensitivity orbital identification of atmospheric components, including methane.

JAXA Haybusa2
Haybusa2                                                            courtesy of JAXA

On 3 December 2014, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched the Hayabusa 2 asteroid exploration mission on a six-year mission to collect geological samples from the (162173) 1999 JU3 asteroid – an Apollo or “near earth” asteroid, now called Ryugu. The purpose of the mission is 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. The MASCOT lander developed by DLR and CNES will collect samples from Ryugu and, using its four instruments, will analyze the asteroid’s soil at two different sites. The vessel has reached its destination and is currently orbiting the asteroid. At the time of writing, MASCOT is scheduled to be deployed in October 2018.

The NASA Mars 2020 Rover, due for launch in July/August 2020 will seek indications of past life, as well as characterizing the climate and geology of the planet. The SuperCam instrument uses laser-induced breakdown (LIBS) techniques to analyse the chemical composition and mineralogy of the terrain. It will also be capable of detecting the presence of organic compounds in rocks from a distance.

G&H is uniquely qualified to contribute to ground-breaking missions such as Mars 2020 Rover, ExoMars and Hayabusa 2 given its experience in working with national and international space agencies. The G&H Group’s space heritage has enabled vital contributions to projects such as NASA’s Mars Curiosity and ESA’s SMOS Earth Observation programs.