Boulder Nonlinear Systems awarded multiple NASA contracts to bring new capabilities to aerial and space-based platforms

LAFAYETTE, Colorado | July 14, 2015

Boulder Nonlinear Systems (BNS) is pleased to announce two Phase I awards from NASA. These include the development of a holographic optical trapping (HOT) module for the International Space Station (ISS) and the development of low size, weight, and power (SWaP) 3D wind sensor system for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Optical trapping systems, also called laser tweezers, use focused laser beams as micromanipulation tools, with laser beams able to trap transparent microparticles at their focus. Holographic optical trapping (HOT) uses a liquid crystal spatial light modulator (SLM) to transform a single input beam into hundreds of independently steerable beams, allowing users to position trapped particles in arrays or other complex 3D structures.

Colloidal research on the ISS, which studies the behavior of suspensions of microparticles in microgravity, can benefit greatly from the ability to place colloidal particles in arbitrary starting configurations, and from the ability to apply forces to individual particles. HOT also has applications in biological research, such as probing the health of a single cell by using optical forces to stretch its cell membrane. “We’re excited to be working on sending holographic optical trapping into orbit for the first time,” says Dr. Janelle Shane, lead scientist on this project. “And we’re looking forward to the new science that this system will enable.”

In the second project, BNS will leverage its patented non-mechanical beam steering technology, liquid crystal polarization gratings (LCPGs), to provide low-SWaP beam steering for airborne Doppler lidar systems. When Doppler lidar measurements of airborne aerosol particles are made along multiple lines-of-sight, the 3D wind vector can be recovered within the measured volume. These wind measurements are crucial for our understanding of climate processes and are useful in detection of hazardous wind conditions. The proposed LCPG-based system aims to reduce the mass and power consumption of the beam scanner by 80× and 6500×, respectively, in comparison to NASA’s current airborne Doppler lidar platforms.

“The airborne 3D wind sensor project is a perfect application of the LCPG technology,” says Principal Investigator Steve Serati. “The project highlights the low-SWaP capabilities of this beam steering modality while enabling us to further characterize and develop the LCPGs for sensitive lidar applications. This then benefits our other customers in the lidar field as well.”

About Boulder Nonlinear Systems

Boulder Nonlinear Systems (BNS) is a leader in the research and development of non-mechanical beam steering innovations for practical devices and systems used by government, research and commercial applications. Since 1988, BNS and its dedicated team of scientists and engineers have specialized in the control and manipulation of optical energy. For more information visit: