Menhir Photonics and partner awarded $1.25M grant from US Air Force

Vescent, the US distribution partner of Swiss startup Menhir Photonics has been awarded a contract endowed with a $1.25M grant from the Air Force to develop a multi-gigahertz optical frequency comb in 18-months. This contract enables Menhir Photonics to offer a new product within 18 months, which will expand its market potential by nearly a factor 2.

Menhir Photonics, the Zurich based startup employing ten people, offers ultrafast laser solutions with its flagship product MENHIR-1550 SERIES, the first industrial-grade femtosecond laser and a stable mode-locked oscillator. The company has acquired customers worldwide in multiple countries in Asia, Europe and America.

The startup’s distributor in the US since 2019, Vescent, has been awarded a $1.25M Direct-to-Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the Air Force (AFR, WPAFB) to develop a fully stabilized, multi-gigahertz-repetition rate optical frequency comb (OFC). The output of the 18-month award will meet both military and non-military requirements for next-generation, field-deployable coherent standoff detection of hazardous gases and advanced hyperspectral imaging. In addition, the device to be developed is directly applicable to a wide range of adjacent fields, including high-speed optical time transfer, GPS and 5G communication interruption immunity, and photonic analogue-to-digital conversion with gigahertz fidelity.

Mehir will provide the gigahertz repetition rate mode-locked laser – the teeth to the comb as part of the project. The robust nature of the Menhir oscillator makes it an excellent launchpad for further stabilization of the carrier offset frequency (ƒCEO) and locking to an optical reference (ƒopt). A further participant, Octave Photonics, acting as a subcontractor, will supply their innovative COSMO Comb Offset Stabilization Module for the detection of ƒCEO, which will, in turn, be stabilized using Vescent control electronics.

Doubling market potential

“Winning this 1.25Millions dollars contract with Vescent is a great step to develop a complete solution – one step high in the value chain – using our lasers. This contract will finance our development, allowing us to offer a new product within 18 months, which will be a system. In that respect, this will expand our market potential by nearly a factor 2”, says Florian Emaury, Co-founder and CEO of Menhir Photonics.

In contrast to other solutions, the OFC approach offers both broadband spectral coverage and fast data acquisition rates. The multi-GHz OFC enables fast and efficient, long-range standoff detection. This has already led to the rapid commercial adoption of OFCs in remote-sensing, particularly in field-deployed standoff detection of greenhouse gas emissions relevant to the oil and gas industry. But the spectral acquisition speed of these systems scales with the square of the repetition rate of the OFC, putting the currently commercially available OFCs with low repetition rates (80-500 MHz) at a throughput disadvantage.

Independent of the SBIR funding, the Menhir team has demonstrated a simplified method of stabilizing the offset frequency of a high-repetition-rate mode-locked laser. This program will extend the efficacy of this work and raise the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of the available instruments.

(Press release/RAN)