Laser beam-steering is a critical enabler for military and civilian applications including autonomous navigation, chemical-biological sensing, precision targeting and communications. Current beam-steering systems often rely on large, slow, opto-mechanical devices such as the optical gimbal. The gimbal, however, tends to be the largest, slowest and most expensive component in the optical system. Drawing on phased array concepts that revolutionized RADAR technology, the Short-Range, Wide Field-of-View Extremely agile, Electronically Steered Photonic Emitter (SWEEPER) program will develop a compact, agile alternative to mechanical beam-steering. The SWEEPER program seeks to extend phased array beam-steering to the optical domain in the near infrared (0.8 to 2 μm range) by developing optical phased arrays and building on recent advances in photonic integrated circuit (PIC) technology such as increased photonic device density and circuit complexity.
The SWEEPER program seeks to develop an optical phased array (64 X 64 elements) capable of agile (greater than 4x106 o/sec) beam-steering with a high degree of side-lobe suppression (30 dB) and a wide field of view (-45o to +45o) based on PIC technology. Such arrays will require the integration and precise relative electronic phase control of thousands of closely packed optical emitting facets within a very small form factor. By developing this array of emitters with multiple degrees of freedom for phase control, the SWEEPER program not only enables agile beam steering but also beam-forming and multiple beam generation.
Historically, the development of RF phased arrays impacted critical applications such as multi-target tracking for fire control systems and directed beams for low probability-of-intercept communications. Successful development of SWEEPER technology will enable optical phased arrays with analogous impact. Compact implementations enabled by PIC technology will be particularly important for small, SWAP-limited, platforms. The potential application-space for this program is broad, encompassing surveillance, 3D imaging, precision targeting, guidance, navigation and LADAR mapping of buildings and caves.
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