Laser atom cooler and hyperspectral kit arrive in orbit

Photonics-enabled science payloads complete journey to International Space Station.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have taken delivery of two major new pieces of photonics-based hardware.

Launched on a SpaceX “Dragon” re-supply craft December 5, the latest science payload includes an upgrade for the Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL), which is based around laser-cooled atoms, and a new hyperspectral Earth imager. It docked with the ISS three days after launch.

The CAL upgrade includes equipment from the Colorado company ColdQuanta, which specializes in laser-based quantum technology kit.

Its “Quantum Core” system incorporates an atom interferometer – described by the company as an ultra-precise quantum sensor with uses ranging from fundamental research in general relativity and Earth science to future applications including GPS-free navigation.