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Semiconductor Lasers

The JPL prototype CO sensor for crewed spacecraft safety. The operational CO sensor enables accurate and continuous monitoring for early-warning fire detection and general environmental safety.

Laser Absorption Spectrometer for Fire Detection and Post-Fire Remediation

Crewmember safety aboard manned spacecraft is a top priority as NASA continues to support the International Space Station and plans future missions. In the confined and isolated environments that astronauts call home, early detection of harmful gases produced by combustion hazards and equipment malfunctions is essential. NASA needs more than an ordinary household smoke detector to ensure the safety of astronauts living more than 200 miles above the surface of Earth.

Using specialized semiconductor lasers to probe molecular absorption lines at infrared wavelengths, instruments developed at MDL can provide a real-time record of hazardous gas concentrations with remarkable sensitivity and specificity. These instruments will enable rapid response to accidental fires aboard manned spacecraft by sniffing out the slightest increase in the levels of poisonous gases generated by burning batteries, wiring, and electronics packaging. The latest instrument using lasers fabricated at MDL can simultaneously monitor CO, HCl, HCN, HF, and CO2 levels in the air to not only indicate the presence of combustion, but also help identify the material being burned.

Left: MDL’s electrically driven quantum cascade lasers are designed to precisely tune across strong absorption lines of carbon monoxide at mid-infrared wavelengths, as shown by laser emission spectra collected as a function of injection current.