Chemical remote sensor for proliferation
Mesa Photonics plans development of a remote sensor to be used to detect clandestine nuclear material processing. We have identified a volatile chemical that is indicative of key steps in uranium isotope enrichment, and can be detected readily at low concentrations using optical methods. Small plumes that are about 1 m across and containing as little as 20 parts per million (ppm), or less, of the marker will be detectable. The measurement method is based on optical spectroscopy using sunlight as a light source. As such, our approach is unobtrusive and can be engineered into compact, rugged, low-power devices. The Phase I project identified the critical design issues that will be resolved in Phase II. Benchtop experiments demonstrated the proof-of-concept for passive, remote sensing of the target species. Limiting noise sources were identified and strategies for mitigating the noise were developed. The Phase I effort led to development of a low-noise current driver for diode lasers and to signal processing using a novel (patentable) approach for narrow-band detection of large bandwidth signals. A prototype remote sensor will be designed, assembled, and evaluated. The approach will include specialized optical and electronic designs that should overcome the performance limitations identified in Phase I. A subcontractor (Avo Photonics) will assist with the optical design so that minimal re-engineering will be required for Phase III commercial or military development.Commercial Applications and Other Benefits: Successful development of the proposed technology will address a key national security issue using fully automated remote sensors that can operate unattended for extended periods while looking for a chemical signature of uranium (and possibly, plutonium processing). There is a near-term market for 50 to 100 units at $25,000 to $35,000 each, depending on final specification. Other applications are in the area of atmospheric measurements. One is high accuracy measurements of temperature and pressure variations from the ground up to the stratosphere which is important for calibrating satellite- based sensing of greenhouse gas concentrations. Another is measurements of trace ammonia distributions in the atmosphere which are important for understanding formation of fine particles that cause respiratory ailments.
Small Business Information at Submission:
Mesa Photonics, LLC
1550 Pacheco St Santa Fe, NM 87505-3914
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