Environmental and vacuum packaging for quantum sensors

Executive summary

Quantum sensing, the use of quantum systems to measure fields and forces, is a rapidly expanding field with broad applications, including for national security. One of the primary application areas for quantum sensors is in positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT), where devices including atomic clocks, quantum inertial sensors, atomic gravimeters, and quantum electromagnetic sensors may enable new capabilities for future PNT architectures, especially in GPS-denied or challenged environments. To maintain high performance in relevant environments, quantum PNT (QPNT) sensors must be made robust against thermal variations, vibration, shock, and other variable environmental conditions. In addition, reduced size, weight and power (SWaP) of sensors is crucial for enabling a wide variety of platforms, from terrestrial to space-based, to take advantage of the projected performance enhancements of quantum sensors.

This report identifies key challenges in quantum sensor ruggedization and miniaturization and recommends pathways for overcoming those challenges. It does not consider the status or technology needs of the sensor device itself. The report is based on a virtual workshop conducted by the Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C) in October 2021 with active participation by experts in quantum sensing and PNT from industry, government, and academia. The recommendations in this report focus on pathways to improve and/or miniaturize packaging of vacuum systems and other supporting sensor structures as well as to shield sensors from vibrations or other environmental effects (e.g., thermal or background magnetic field variations).

This report identifies the following key action items for the government to consider:

  1. Focus Funding and Community Resources to Support Development of Novel QPNT Peripheral Subsystems (see Table 1)
    1. Funding and resources should be directed to not only address sensor head performance specifications, but also to support the development of crucial peripheral subsystems and processes. The recommended areas are described in Table 1. The funding mechanisms can be both incremental and ambitious programs but should be specifically targeted towards an enabling subsystem technology. By providing such opportunities, the QPNT provider can more effectively engage with industry experts in materials science, control electronics, and laser technologies to solve major quantum-deployed system roadblocks.
  2. Improve Communication between Government and QPNT Providers
    1. The needs of the U.S. government can only be met with a clear and direct communication channel between itself and the QPNT community. Considerations should be given to augmenting the standard Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale used for benchmarking quantum sensor devices as it lacks contextual understanding and hampers open discussion of technology gaps. Communication can be further improved by incorporating the broader QPNT community in reporting efforts used to inform government recommendations and improving the dissemination of those reports to QED-C members.
Table 1: Recommended research and development areas
Targeted R&D
Materials and Fabrication
  • Helium-impermeable materials
  • Novel materials or techniques for magnetic shielding
  • Low-cost, high-yield production of physically robust atomic vapor cells
  • Mixed material additive manufacturing to support quantum sensor structures
  • Advances in wafer-level fabrication
Supporting Components
  • Novel vacuum pump technologies
  • Photonic integrated circuit (PIC) development
  • Embedded control electronics
  • Clean atomic sources
System Controls
  • Dynamic optical field controls
  • Dynamic magnetic field controls

This publication is available to QED-C members only. QED-C members can view full versions of all publications on our members website. If you do not have an account, and your organization is already a member, we invite you to request an account. If you are unsure if your organization is a member, please check the listing of members. If your organization is interested in becoming a member, please submit a membership inquiry.