From The Editor | August 17, 2022

Bright Ideas — NIF Celebrates 1 Year Since 1.4 MJ Achieved, Laser-Mounted Strykers Headed For Fort Sill

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By Abby Proch, Editor

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One year ago, scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s (LLNL’s) National Ignition Facility (NIF) generated more than 1.3 megajoules (MJ) through fusion ignition — getting the closet its ever gotten to the threshold of fusion gain. Subsequent attempts with the 192-laser system have not produced the same fusion yield as the experiment on Aug. 8, 2021, but researchers are recording and learning from clues in performances to further understand what conditions and factors make fusion ignition possible. Such improvements under consideration include improving the lasers, increasing the amount of fusion fuel, and modifying the design for better energy delivery to the hotspot. The 2021 achievement was documented in three separate peer-reviewed papers, published in “Physical Review Letters” and “Physical Review E.”

Wearable technology continues gathering momentum with recent announcements by the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA) to invest $1.6 million in eight applied research projects and by Rockley Photonics to provide its first commercial customer with a non-invasive biosensing bracelet. Through its wearable technology applied research center, the ACA funded the following initiatives, among others: an at-home mobility assistance device to help with gaiting training (Biomotum), an exoskeleton device to reduce workplace injuries by aiding movements like squatting and lifting (GoX Labs/AKE), an anti-anxiety device powered by AI (ToughPoint Solutions), a solution for measuring acute brain injury (Movement Interactive), and a fetal monitor the uses biosensors and machine learning (KLS). For its part, Rockley is shipping an unknown number of its Bioptx Baseline biosensing wristbands to an unnamed “global healthcare technology provider.” Users could be donning the biomarker sensing device by the end of the year, and Rockley has plans for mass production in 2023.

In a little more than a month, the first laser-mounted Stryker vehicles will head to an air defense battery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The vehicles, first in the Directed Energy-Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (DE M-SHORAD) program, will host a 50-kilowatt laser capable of destroying drones weighing up to 1,320 pounds, as well as rockets, mortars, and artillery. Handled by the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCT), DE M-SHORAD will be complimented by another laser-mounted vehicle program that features a smaller, less capable 20 kW laser atop an infantry squad vehicle that can neutralize smaller, lighter unmanned systems.

Looking to develop a low-cost, reconfigurable optical communications terminal, DARPA has put together 11 teams for the first phase of the Space-Based Adaptive Communications Node, or Space-BACN, program. Teams from three technical areas will be tasked with creating “an ‘internet’ of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, enabling seamless communication between military/government and commercial/civil satellite constellations that currently are unable to talk with each other.” CACI, MBRYONICS, and Mynaric will develop a flexible, low SWaP-C optical aperture that couples to a single-mode fiber. II-VI Aerospace and Defense, Arizona State University, and Intel Federal, LLC will create a reconfigurable topical modem that can handle 100 Gbps on one wavelength. And Space X, Telesat, SpaceLink, Viasat, and Kuiper Government Solutions LCC will play the support role in identifying elements that enable cross-constellation optical intersatellite link communications.

Space Force launched the last of six missile warning satellites on Aug. 4. Part of the Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit-6 (SBIRS GEO 6) mission, this satellite joins others to form a constellation acting as the first point of detection for ballistic missile threats. Built by Lockheed Martin and launched by United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket, SBIRS GEO 6 uses infrared sensors to collect data that aids in detection, defense, intelligence gathering, and situational awareness.

Finally, in business news, the pandemic has had a polarizing effect on businesses’ success over the past few years, with restaurants and theaters struggling amid the shutdowns while streaming and delivery services thrived. In photonics and optics, the same is true. After a two-month lockdown in Shanghai hampered nLight’s assembly activities and sales for the second quarter, the semiconductor and laser fiber maker saw growth in additive manufacturing and directed energy weapons. Now, nLight CEO Scott Keeney says the company is expected to regain traction in sales, estimating $60 million to $66 million in the current quarter, down from the company’s recording breaking $72 million third quarter last year. Jenoptik, however, continues its climb despite adverse conditions. It has raised its sales expectations for 2022 after a 34 percent rise in sales and 45 percent increase in Q2 orders over last year for its photonics division. Jenoptik attributes the success to strong growth in the semiconductor industry as well as with biophotonics and industrial solutions.