NASA has awarded Hawaii high technology company Nalu Scientific a highly competitive national grant to apply its innovative technology to reduce the cost, size, and power requirements of future orbital and planetary missions.

Nalu Scientific received the $120,000, six-month Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) federal grant to design and build SWELL – the Single-photon-sensitive Waveform Enhanced and Lightweight LIDAR system. LIDAR uses reflected laser light to measure distance and scan surfaces and objects.

“Future NASA scientific missions will require remote sensing equipment with lower power, smaller form factors, increased robustness, and higher sensitivities,” explains Nalu Scientific founder and CEO Isar Mostafanezhad. “Adapting LIDAR’s receiver into a ‘system-on-chip’ would achieve these goals and represent a significant advance across numerous applications.”

SWELL will be based on Nalu Scientific’s low Size, Weight, and Power (SWaP) Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs), which enable high precision time measurements down to a picosecond (one trillionth of a second) using special built-in digital signal processing and control interfaces. For NASA, SWELL could boost LIDAR applications by taking extremely precise time of flight (ToF) single-photon measurements of back-scattered laser light pulses.

Dr. Ben Rotter, who received his Physics Ph.D. from UH Manoa heads the SWELL project.

“SWELL could be used in LIDAR imaging systems deployed in high orbit, or in high-precision and low power imaging sensors for planetary missions,” Rotter says. “Our technology can also be applied to other industries, such as orbital geospatial mapping.”