Boston Micromachines awarded NASA grant to improve imaging of extra-solar planets

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A Phase 1 contract to support exoplanet imaging research worth $125,000 has been awarded to Boston Micromachines by NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programme. Boston Micromachines provides MEMS-based deformable mirrors (DM) for adaptive optics systems.

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 the imaging of small Earth-sized planets. Therefore DMs must be used to correct for the residual aberrations resulting from initial fabrication and the long term mechanical deformation of the deployed primary mirror, which is caused by its use.

In this Phase 1 project, Boston Micromachines will develop an innovative microfabrication process to 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 programmes. The highly competitive programmes afford small businesses the chance to propose unique ideas that meet specific research and development needs of the government.

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