Photon-Counting Image Sensors Using Complementary Metal-oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) Foundry Processes

Navy SBIR 21.1 - Topic N211-099
SSP - Strategic Systems Programs - Mr. Michael Pyryt -
Opens: January 14, 2021 - Closes: February 18, 2021 (12:00pm EDT)

N211-099 TITLE: Photon-Counting Image Sensors Using Complementary Metal-oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) Foundry Processes

RT&L FOCUS AREA(S): Nuclear Modernization

TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Electronics; Materials / Processes; Sensors

The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with section 3.5 of the Announcement. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws.

OBJECTIVE: Develop a high-density, high-speed image sensor using Complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) foundry processes that is capable of photon counting without deep cooling, and is also strategically radiation-hardened, for use in star trackers.

DESCRIPTION: The performance requirements for star trackers used in strategic navigation applications continue to become more stringent, necessitating continued innovation for image sensor technologies. Examples of existing research on photon-counting image sensors can be found in the Refs 1-5. In terms of idealities, these image sensors should be capable of high-speed (>1000 frames per second), low-noise (sub-electron) readout in a photon-counting mode without the need for deep cooling; have high-density (approx. 1 Ķm) pixel pitch; be radiation-hard at strategic levels; have low power consumption, and be able to be fabricated using CMOS foundry processes.

PHASE I: Perform a design and performance modeling study aimed at image sensors with improved performance for strategic star trackers as compared to the current state of the art. Assess performance and environmental sensitivity of parameters including responsivity, speed, noise, and defective pixels; consider all aspects of fabrication; and justify the feasibility/practicality of the approach. A goal of quantum efficiency greater than 70% from 400 to 640 nm and read noise < 0.3 electrons RMS is desired. The Phase I Option, if exercised, will include the initial design specifications and capabilities description to build a prototype solution in Phase II.

PHASE II: Fabricate and characterize a small lot (up to a quantity of 3) of prototype image sensors. Characterization using EMVA1288 standard, shall comprise various parameters including responsivity, speed, noise, and defective pixels. The prototypes shall be delivered by the end of Phase II.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Continue development to lead to productization of image sensors suitable for star trackers. While this technology is aimed at military/strategic applications, image sensors are heavily used in numerous other applications. An image sensor that can meet the stringent performance requirements of strategic instrumentation is likely to bring value to many existing commercial applications. Commercial applications for low light imaging applications include spectroscopy, optical scattering, and quantum communications.


  1. Fossum, E. R. "Modeling the performance of single-bit and multi-bit quanta image sensors." IEEE Journal of the Electron Devices Society, 1(9), 2013, pp. 166-174.
  2. Ma, J.; Hondongwa, D.; and Fossum, E. R. "Jot devices and the quanta image sensor." 2014 IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting, December 2014, pp. 10-1.
  3. Ma, J. and Fossum, E. R. "A pump-gate jot device with high conversion gain for a quanta image sensor." IEEE Journal of the Electron Devices Society, 3(2), 2015, pp. 73-77.
  4. Ma, J. and Fossum, E. R. "Quanta image sensor jot with sub 0.3 e-rms read noise and photon counting capability." IEEE Electron Device Letters, 36(9), 2015, pp. 926-928.
  5. Gnanasambandam, A.; Elgendy, O.; Ma, J. and Chan, S. H. "Megapixel photon-counting color imaging using quanta image sensor." Optics express, 27(12), 2019, pp. 17298-17310.

KEYWORDS: image sensor; star tracker; navigation, Complementary metal-oxide semiconductor; foundry; radiation-hard


The Navy Topic above is an "unofficial" copy from the overall DoD 21.1 SBIR BAA. Please see the official DoD Topic website at for any updates.

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