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Our James Webb Space Telescope will be very cold during the hot Houston summer inside our Johnson Space Center’s historic Chamber A as it undergoes its final three months of testing in a cryogenic vacuum that mimics the cold temperatures of space. Chamber A will chill down to simulate a space environment of extreme cold -- around 37º Kelvin (-236ºC/-393ºF). In space, the telescope must be kept extremely cold, in order to be able to detect the infrared light from very faint, distant objects. To protect the telescope from external sources of light and heat (like the sun, Earth, and moon), as well as from heat emitted by the observatory, a five-layer, tennis court-sized sunshield acts like a parasol that provides shade. The sunshield separates the observatory into a warm, sun-facing side (reaching temperatures close to 400ºF) and a cold side (-185ºF). The sunshield blocks sunlight from interfering with the sensitive telescope instruments. The James Webb Space Telescope is the scientific successor to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. Credits: NASA/Chris Gunn
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Image: MIT Lincoln Laboratory

To enable safe and affordable autonomous vehicles, the automotive industry needs lidar systems that are around the size of a wallet, cost one hundred dollars, and can see targets at long distances with high resolution. With the support of DARPA, our team at Kyber Photonics, in Lexington, Mass., is advancing the next generation of lidar sensors by developing a new solid-state, lidar-on-a-chip architecture that was recently demonstrated at MIT. The technology has an extremely wide field of view, a simplified control approach compared to the state-of-the-art designs, and has the promise to scale to millions of units via the wafer-scale fabrication methods of the integrated photonics industry.


Light detection and ranging (lidar) sensors hold great promise for allowing autonomous machines to see and navigate the world with very high precision. But current technology suffers from several drawbacks that need to be addressed before widespread adoption can occur. Lidar sensors provide spatial information by scanning an optical beam, typically in the wavelength range between 850 and 1550 nm, and using the reflected optical signals to build a three-dimensional map of an area of interest. They complement cameras and radar by providing high resolution and unambiguous ranging and velocity information under both daytime and nighttime conditions.

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