Machine Design

Color video streaming from space

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have developed a light detector that may lead to superfast broadband communications over interplanetary distances.

MIT Assistant Professor Karl Berggren works on nanowires in the lab.

Berggren uses the machine behind him to make nanowires, technology that may speed interplanetary communications.

The work may ultimately permit the transmission of color video between astronauts or equipment in outer space and scientists on Earth.

The device improves the detection efficiency of photons on the detector's area to 57% at wavelengths of 1,550 nm, the same wavelength as broadband signals carried via optical fibers. Current detector efficiency is only 20%.

The detector uses nanowires and super-conductors to sense extremely low light or laser signals in the infrared part of the optical spectrum. Reportedly, the device can sense a single photon, something not possible with conventional optics.

Single-photon detectors are not new, but they were not speedy and efficient at detecting light. MIT engineers improved the efficiency by adding a "photon trap" as well as an antireflection coating to keep light from bouncing off the detector.

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