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Microshutters compete with an alternate approach called micromirrors. This approach uses an array of tiles; by tilting the tiles’ “mirrors,” light is deflected, says Jhabvala. “While this is very good technology developed for projection television systems, one of our key requirements is to completely block all light. There cannot be any leakage that will corrupt the signal. The mirrors are only deflecting the light somewhere else, leaving the possibility that light could get back into the system.” The shutters completely block it, he says.

In the next six to nine months, before the microshutters are shipped to the ESA, engineers will continue fine-tuning the device. But so far it has done well; the technology has shown that it can survive the rigors of launch into space, and it works fine in the cold temperature (−388 °F).

While it’s too soon to say if this high-end space MEMS will ever be commercialized, Moseley says the advantages of absolute control of light could have relevance to medical imaging and other imaging applications. “The capability this technology offers is great. If lots of people could get it, lots of people would want it. But to make it useful for other technical imaging applications … we need to be able to scale these up to a larger size.”

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Credit: Courtesy NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center JWST Microshutter Development team.

Tagged: Computing, NASA, space, silicon, infared, MEMS, telescope

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