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Submillimeter Devices
Above: NASA's contribution included three of the orbiter's instruments (the Microwave Instrument for Rosetta Orbiter, the Ion and Electron Sensor, and an ultraviolet spectrometer called Alice). The Microwave Instrument for the Rosetta Orbiter was built at JPL and is home to its principal investigator, Samuel Gulkis.

Submillimeter Devices
Submillimeter-Wave Advanced Technology

Microdevices Laboratory (MDL) expertise develops submillimeter-wave technology and devices for remote sensing of Earth and planetary bodies.

Researchers in submillimeter-wave advanced technology at JPL specialize in developing and implementing submillimeter-wave and terahertz remote sensing technologies for a variety of applications. The primary focus is to develop components and technologies to enable space borne instruments based on high-resolution heterodyne spectrometers for Earth remote-sensing missions, planetary missions and astrophysics observatories. JPL’s rich and varied technical expertise is also utilized for ground-based applications that are a spin-off from the heterodyne receiver technologies. Heterodyne technology allows one to map/detect unique molecular signatures with very high spectral resolution over a wide range of wavelengths. Next-generation technology development will allow us to build and deploy compact submillimeter-wave receivers that are ideally suited for planetary missions.

Instruments for detection of water molecules is a long-standing goal of NASA planetary missions. MDL-produced devices were onboard the MIRO (Microwave Instrument for the Rosetta Orbiter), the first planetary microwave instrument sent into space. MIRO could detect volatile substances, like water, carbon monoxide, methanol, and ammonia. MIRO first detected water vapor from the coma of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko when Rosetta was 350,000 km from the comet nucleus. At that distance, the nucleus was unresolved and the entire coma filled MIRO’s field of view. After Rosetta reached the comet, MIRO made observations to map the nucleus and coma in great detail. Subsequently, the MIRO instrument detected an increase in the rate of water vapor coming from the comet, confirming that the water vapor rate on the comet is not constant. MIRO produced scientific results that improved our understanding of chemical and physical processes on planetary bodies.

Looking to the future, we take advantage of MDL’s growing capabilities to produce instruments of the future that are more advanced in functionality and yet reduced in resource requirements such as mass and power. Advanced devices are being designed and fabricated at MDL that will allow lower-mass and lower-power heterodyne receivers with greater sensitivities. This allows us to peer into the early universe, study planetary bodies and better understand the chemistry of our own planet’s atmosphere.

Mid-Infrared Detectors

Products & Processes

Closing the THz GAP

THz Gap

To make Terahertz devices even more useful, they need to be smaller, more efficient, versatile and tolerant of a wide range of operating conditions so that they can be deployed in an even greater range of NASA missions. MDL recently...

Bridging THz and Mid-IR Heterodyne Technologies

THz + Mid-IR

Future large ground based and space mid-IR (l ~ 10 ┬Ám) interferometers can enable direct imaging of protoplanets and even habitable exoplanets that mostly emit in this spectral range. One of the promising ways to carry out line...

Silicon Sculpturing for 3-D Miniaturization

Silicon Sculpturing

Over the last few years, NASA has funded development of super-compact submillimeter-wave instruments for planetary exploration. Submillimeter heterodyne instruments play a critical role in addressing fundamental questions...

Small Lenses for a Big World

Small Lenses

The antenna used to couple the radiation to the sensor is a key component to ensure that the system achieves the sensitivity to perform the scientific observations. In this effort, we have designed a waveguide-based...

The Next Phase Shift in Space

Phase Shifter

One of NASAs larger scientific interest lies in the studies of heavenly bodies in our solar system. Remote studies of cold bodies with spectrometers and radiometers provide information of the planets atmospheric composition and surface...

Very Cool Detectors

Cool Detectors

Extremely high sensitivity detectors are required for investigating the star-forming regions of the universe and making quantitative measurements on abundances of various molecular species in areas of active star...

From Antarctica to the Stars


NASA deploys radio telescopes on balloons to gain fundamental insights into the origin and development of the solar system and of stars in distant galaxies. The Stratospheric Terahertz Observatory (STO-2)...

'Pat Down' without Putting Down

Pat Down

Submillimeter-wave components and receivers that have been developed for space applications can also be used for applications on planet Earth. A portable radar system was demonstrated in 2014 that can provide imaging...

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