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Conformal Forward Looking Multi-Aperture Seeker for High Speed EO/IR Demonstrator


OUSD (R&E) CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Trusted AI and Autonomy;Hypersonics


The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with the Announcement. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws.


OBJECTIVE: Build a prototype EO/IR multi-aperture seeker that can actively mitigate thermal loading associated with Mach 5+ flight while viewing forward through a hot nose cone.  Innovative solutions are desired that can target surface and airborne objects without blind spots in the field of view.


DESCRIPTION: Hypersonic vehicles generate excessive aerodynamic heating from friction and shear forces at the boundary layer between the nose cone and the free stream air. The resulting convective and radiative heat-flux into the nose cone and viewing windows can elevate the temperature of those components beyond 800C, making window survival and forward viewing a formidable challenge.  Multi-aperture imagers based on biological principles can distribute the entrance aperture across an array of small windows for which thermal stresses and gradients can be reduced significantly using active cooling.  Cooling not only improves window survival, it also reduces thermal background noise, thereby enhancing target detection sensitivity.  Innovative concepts are sought that take advantage of the design features of biologically inspired, multi-aperture technologies to demonstrate operational capability in high-speed regimes.  The desired concept will be conformal to the nose cone to minimize aerodynamic heating and will be capable of viewing forward without blind spots obscuring any portion of the field of view.  The optical image is to be captured on a middle wavelength infrared (MWIR) focal plane array (FPA), which will be cryo-cooled to increase its detection sensitivity.  The optical system must be designed to have its exit pupil positioned at the cold shield aperture of the cryo-cooled MWIR FPA.


PHASE I: UPDATE:  The technical work that would need to have been completed prior to the proposal being submitted in order for the applicants to demonstrate the necessary feasibility to move directly into Phase II are: 

  • A complete optical design for a multi-aperture infrared sensor intended for high-speed forward looking seeker applications.
  • A complete thermal management design of an actively cooled infrared window with components that can survive beyond 800 C. 
  • Benchtop testing of components or sub-systems to demonstrate the design as a proof-of-concept.  Therefore, if an optical design and thermal management design have already been completed and components have been demonstrated at a benchtop level, then the Phase I requirements have been met; and Phase II shall build a complete prototype and test in a relevant environment.   

As this is a Direct-to-Phase-II (D2P2) topic, no Phase I awards will be made as a result of this topic. To qualify for this D2P2 topic, the Government expects the applicant to demonstrate feasibility by means of a prior “Phase I-type” effort that does not constitute work undertaken as part of a prior SBIR/STTR funding agreement.   Phase I shall consist of a vetted optical design for a MWIR multi-aperture sensor and thermal management design of an actively cooled MWIR window. These designs shall be intended for high-speed forward looking seeker applications with components that can survive beyond 800 C. Furthermore, benchtop testing of components or sub-systems shall be performed to demonstrate the design as a proof-of-concept. AFRL/RWTSE has verified that these milestones have been met and a Direct-to-Phase II is required to mature the technology.


PHASE II: Implement, integrate and demonstrate hardware.  Execute an experimental program using the prototype hardware to demonstrate performance capabilities and limitations. Document the prototype experimental results in preparation for a demonstration flight experiment.


PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Possible teaming with Lockheed Martin, using matching funds through AFWERX STRATFI program.



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  2. D. Kalin, S. Mullins, L. Couch, T. Blackwell, D. Saylor, “Experimental investigation of high velocity mixing/shear layer aero-optic effects,” SPIE Vol. 1326 Window and Dome Technologies and Materials II (1990);
  3. L. Brooks, D. Kalin, B. Peters, “Experimentally simulated aero-optic measurements through multi-aperture windows,” SPIE Vol. 1760 Window and Dome Technologies and Materials III (1992);
  4. D. Kalin, L. Brooks, C. Wojciechowski, G. Jones, “Performance characterization of an internally cooled window in a nonuniform high heat flux environment,” SPIE Vol. 3060 Window and Dome Technologies and Materials V (1997);
  5. D. Harris, “Materials for Infrared Windows and Domes – Properties and Performance,” SPIE Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8194-3482-5;
  6. F. Reininger, “Multihybrid artificial compound eye with varied ommatidia,” U.S. Patent No. 8,576,489. 5 Nov. 2013;


KEYWORDS: MWIR Imaging; Multi-Aperture; Biologically Inspired; Hypersonic; Aero Thermal Response; Cooling

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