15 March 2016 Novel photon-counting detectors for free-space communication
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Abstract
We present performance data for novel photon-counting detectors for free space optical communication. NASA GSFC is testing the performance of three types of novel photon-counting detectors 1) a 2x8 mercury cadmium telluride (HgCdTe) avalanche array made by DRS Inc., and a 2) a commercial 2880-element silicon avalanche photodiode (APD) array. We present and compare dark count, photon-detection efficiency, wavelength response and communication performance data for these detectors. We discuss system wavelength trades and architectures for optimizing overall communication link sensitivity, data rate and cost performance.

The HgCdTe APD array routinely demonstrated photon detection efficiencies of greater than 50% across 5 arrays, with one array reaching a maximum PDE of 70%. We performed high-resolution pixel-surface spot scans and measured the junction diameters of its diodes. We found that decreasing the junction diameter from 31 μm to 25 μm doubled the e- APD gain from 470 for an array produced in the year 2010 to a gain of 1100 on an array delivered to NASA GSFC recently. The mean single-photon SNR was over 12 and the excess noise factors measurements were 1.2-1.3.

The commercial silicon APD array exhibited a fast output with rise times of 300 ps and pulse widths of 600 ps. On-chip individually filtered signals from the entire array were multiplexed onto a single fast output.
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M. A. Krainak, M. A. Krainak, G. Yang, G. Yang, X. Sun, X. Sun, W. Lu, W. Lu, S. Merritt, S. Merritt, J. Beck, J. Beck, "Novel photon-counting detectors for free-space communication", Proc. SPIE 9739, Free-Space Laser Communication and Atmospheric Propagation XXVIII, 97390T (15 March 2016); doi: 10.1117/12.2213190; https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2213190
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