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Atomic Quantum Sensor and Clocks

Description:

Scope Title:

Optical Atomic Clocks

Scope Description:

Space exploration relies on sensors for science measurements as well as spacecraft operation. As sensing precisions push their limits, quantum phenomena inevitably must be exploited. It is expected that sensors utilizing quantum properties will offer new and significantly improved capabilities. NASA is interested in advancing quantum sensing technologies and infusing them into space science missions. In particular, this call seeks the development and maturation towards space application and qualification of atomic systems that leverage their quantum properties (e.g., optical atomic clocks, atom interferometers, Rydberg atom sensors, artificial atom-based sensors such as nitrogen-vacancy (NV) center point-defect sensors, etc.).

 

Recent developments of laser control and manipulation of atoms have led to new types of quantum sensors and clocks. Atomic particles, being intrinsically quantum mechanical, have demonstrated theirs unique advantages in metrology and sensing. Perhaps the most celebrated atomic metrology tool is the atomic clock. Atomic clocks in the optical frequency domain (i.e., optical primary frequency standards) have approached, and are expected to exceed, a frequency uncertainty beyond 1 part in 1x1018. These optical clocks can be used, in turn, as precision sensors; e.g., sensitivity to the fundamental physics constants has been explored for detection of dark matter and time variations in those fundamental constants.

 

The gaps to be filled and technologies to be matured include, but are not limited to, the following: 

(1) Optical atomic clocks 

  • Subsystem and components for high-performance and high-accuracy optical clocks, mostly notably Sr and Yb lattice clocks as well as Sr+ and Yb+ singly trapped ion clocks. They comprise atomic physics packages, which are necessarily laser systems, and include clock lasers, optical frequency combs, as well as advanced electronics and controllers based on microprocessors or field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). They should have a path to a flight system. 
  • Space-qualifiable small-size low-power clock lasers at, or subsystems that can lead to, better than 3×10-15 Hz/√𝜏 near 0.1 to 10 s (wavelengths for Yb+, Yb, and Sr clock transitions are of special interest). 
  • Technical approaches and methods for beyond-state-of-the-art compact and miniature clocks for space with emphasis on the performance per size, power, and mass.   
  • Technical approaches and methods for beyond-state-of-the-art time transfer between orbiting and terrestrial clocks.

(2) Other atomic and artificial atomic sensors 

  • Rydberg sensors or their subsystems/components for electric field or microwave measurements. 
  • Space-qualifiable NV diamond or chip-scale atomic magnetometers.
  • High-performance, miniaturized or chip-scale optical frequency combs.
  • Other innovative atomic quantum sensors for high-fidelity field measurements that have space applications and can be developed into a space-quantifiable instrument.  

 

Because of the breath and diversity of the portfolio, performers are expected to be aware of specific gaps for specific application scenarios. All proposed system performances may be defined by offeror with clear justifications. Subsystem technology development proposals should clearly state the relevance to the anticipated system-level implementation and performance; define requirements, relevant atomic species, and working laser wavelengths; and indicate its path to a space-borne instrument. Finally, for proposals interested in quantum sensing methodologies for achieving the optimal collection of light for photon-starved astronomical observations, it is suggested to consider the STTR subtopic T8.06.

Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of the Project: 1 to 5

Primary Technology Taxonomy:

  • Level 1 08 Sensors and Instruments
  • Level 2 08.3 In-Situ Instruments/Sensor

Desired Deliverables of Phase I and Phase II:

  • Prototype
  • Hardware
  • Research
  • Analysis
  • Software

Desired Deliverables Description:

Phase I deliverables: results of a feasibility study, analysis, and preliminary laboratory demonstration, as described in a final report.

 

Phase II deliverables: prototype or demonstration hardware; summary of performance analysis; and applicable supporting documentation, data, and/or test reports.

State of the Art and Critical Gaps:

Many technology gaps exist in the development state of atomic sensors and clocks intended for NASA space applications. These gaps are mainly in the areas of reducing size, mass, and power, while increasing their performance and advancing them towards space qualification. These gaps may pertain to components, subsystems, instruments/devices, novel approaches, and/or theoretical analysis tools. Most of the needed improvements are elements that are beyond the current state of the art. These needed improvements include high-flux ultra-cold atom sources, atomic physics packages and atomic vacuum cell technology specific to clock and atom interferometer applications, miniature optical isolators, efficient modulators, active wave front and polarization devices, fast high-extension-ratio switches, efficient detectors, and novel frequency conversion methods/devices. Also needed are lasers and laser-optics system approaches with a high degree of integration and robustness that are suitable for atomic devices, small ultra-stabilized laser systems, and miniature self-referenced optical frequency combs. These are examples and not an exhaustive list.    

Relevance / Science Traceability:

Currently, no technology exists that can compete with the (potential) sensitivity, (potential) compactness, and robustness of atom-optical-based gravity- and time-measurement devices. Earth science, planetary science, and astrophysics all benefit from unprecedented improvements in gravity and time measurement. Specific roadmap items supporting science instrumentation include, but are not limited to:

  • TX08.1.2: Electronics (reliable control electronics for laser systems)
  • TX08.1.3: Optical Components (reliable laser systems)
  • TX08.1.4: Microwave, Millimeter, and Submillimeter-Waves (ultra-low noise microwave output when coupled w/ optical frequency comb)
  • TX08.1.5: Lasers (reliable laser system w/ long lifetime)

References:

 

Scope Title:

Atomic Interferometry

Scope Description:

Recent developments of laser control and manipulation of atoms have led to new types of precision inertial force and gravity sensors based on atom interferometry. Atom interferometers exploit the quantum mechanical wave nature of atomic particles and quantum gases for sensitive interferometric measurements. Ground-based laboratory experiments and instruments have already demonstrated beyond the state-of-the-art performances of accelerometer, gyroscope, and gravity measurements. The microgravity environment in space provides opportunities for further drastic improvements in sensitivity and precision. Such inertial sensors will have great potential to provide new capabilities for NASA Earth and planetary gravity measurements, for spacecraft inertial navigation and guidance and for gravitational wave detection and test of properties of gravity in space. Currently the most mature development of atom interferometers as measurement instruments are those based on light-pulsed atom interferometers with freefall cold atoms. There remain a number of technical challenges to infuse this technology in space applications.

 

Some of the identified key challenges are (but not limited to):

  • Space-qualifiable high-flux ultra-cold atom sources, related components, and methods (e.g., >1×106 total atoms near the point at <1 nK for Rb, K, Cs, Yb, and Sr).
  • Ultra-high vacuum technologies and approaches for quantum sensor applications that allow small-size and low-power, completely sealed, nonmagnetic enclosures with high-quality optical access and are capable of maintaining <1×10-9 Torr residual gas pressure. Consideration should be given to the inclusion of cold atom sources of interest, such as switchable and/or regulated atom vapor pressure or flux.  
  • Beyond the state-of-the-art photonic components at wavelengths for atomic species of interest, particularly visible and ultraviolet (UV):
    • Efficient acousto-optic modulators: e.g., low radio-frequency (RF) power ~200 mW, low thermal distortion, ~80% or greater diffraction efficiency.
    • Efficient electro-optic modulators: e.g., low bias drift, residual AM, and return loss; fiber-coupled preferred. 
    • Miniature optical isolators: e.g., ~30 dB isolation or greater, ~ -2 dB loss or less.
    • Robust high-speed high-extinction shutters: e.g., switching time <1 ms and extinction >60 dB are highly desired.
    • Integrated micro-optical assemblies for quantum sensor applications.
  • Flight qualifiable: i.e., rugged and long-life lasers or laser systems of narrow linewidth, high tunability, and/or higher power for clock and cooling transitions of atomic species of interest. Also, cooling and trapping lasers of 10 kHz linewidth and ~1 W or greater total optical power are generally needed, but offerors may define and justify their own performance specifications. 
  • Analysis and simulation tool of a cold atom system in trapped and free-fall states relevant to atom interferometer and clock measurements in space. 

Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of the Project: 1 to 5

Primary Technology Taxonomy:

  • Level 1 08 Sensors and Instruments
  • Level 2 08.3 In-Situ Instruments/Sensor

Desired Deliverables of Phase I and Phase II:

  • Research
  • Analysis
  • Prototype
  • Hardware
  • Software

Desired Deliverables Description:

Desired deliverables for this scope include an analysis and simulation tool of a cold atom system in trapped and free-fall states relevant to an atom interferometer in space. Other types of deliverables are lasers or laser systems of narrow linewidth (~10 kHz) , high tunability, and/or higher power (> 1 W) for clock and cooling transitions of atomic species of interest. Examples of Phase I deliverables will include results of a feasibility study, analysis, and preliminary laboratory demonstration, as described in a final report. The Phase II deliverables will be prototype or demonstration hardware; summary of performance analysis; and applicable supporting documentation, data, and/or test reports.

 

 

State of the Art and Critical Gaps:

Flight-qualifiable laser or laser system transitions that would be suitable for cooling or trapping atomic species of interest. The wavelengths for these lasers are outside of the telecom wavelengths (in particular, 852 nm to enable Cs cold atom systems). Many technology gaps exist in the development of these lasers for NASA space Atom Interferometer Gravity Gradiometer (AIGG) applications. These gaps are mainly in the areas of reducing size, mass, and power, while increasing their performance and advancing them towards space qualification. These gaps may pertain to components, subsystems, instruments/devices, novel approaches, and/or theoretical analysis tools. Most of the needed improvements are elements that are beyond the current state of the art. These needed improvements include high-flux ultra-cold atom sources, atomic physics packages and atomic vacuum cell technology specific to atom interferometer applications.

Relevance / Science Traceability:

The technology advancement  from this subtopic will lead to the realization of an orbiting AIGG, which would significantly advance the capability to measure the Earth’s time variable gravity (TVG). Performance simulations have shown that an orbiting AIGG will result in a factor of 8 improvement in the recovery of the Earth’s TVG compared to GRACE Follow-On. Also, the Mass Change Designated Observable (MCDO) mission study team has identified an advanced gravity gradiometer based on atomic interferometry as a critical future technology for significant advancement in TVG observations. The MCDO study has included simulation performance studies of a notional space-based AIGG, as well as supporting an Instrument Design Lab study and a Mission Design Lab study for an AIGG Technology Demonstration Mission (TDM). The AIGG testbed is being developed at the Goddard Space Flight Center. 

References:

2017 NASA Strategic Technology Investment Plan: https://go.usa.gov/xU7sE

2015 NASA Technology Roadmaps: https://go.usa.gov/xU7sy

 

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