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Rules and Missed Opportunities

Posted by Tom Benedict on 15/06/2011

Very recently, the place where I work has had to comply with a set of rules known as ITAR. It restricts international arms trade. And it turns out that infrared array detectors are considered to be arms-grade devices. All infrared array detectors are arms-grade devices. So all of our infrared cameras fall under ITAR rules. No pictures, no sharing, no talking, no nothing. It’s a bummer.

Where it really gets to be a bummer is that I like to photograph the machining work I do. The parts are small, they’re fun to make, they’re even more fun to photograph, and I get a kick out of sharing the geek, so to speak. But anything having to do with infrared array detectors is strictly off-limits. Rats!

I’m in the middle of a number of projects at work, all of which take top priority, of course. One of them is building out a test cryostat for (you guessed it) an infrared detector. This poor cryostat has been around the block way too many times. It started life as a NICMOS IR camera back in the day. Later, when we needed to test another device, the optics and  mechanics were stripped out and it was retrofitted as a generic cold bench. I fabricated and installed a miniature optics bench with a pattern of 1/4″-20 holes on 1″ spacings, just like an optics table you’d find anywhere in the world. I added a heat shield, heat shield sleeves for the mechanical feed-throughs, all sorts of goodies. As each detector went through this thing, I made a number of electrical feed-throughs. Different numbers of conductors, different connectors, different numbers of connectors, the whole nine yards.

This most recent round required yet another electrical feedthrough, though otherwise we’re not making any changes to the mechanics. It was one of the more challenging designs I’ve had to stick on the thing, and it was the first of these feed-throughs I’ve designed in a 3D CAD package. I was excited! I wanted to share! But no. ITAR rules.

So I can’t show you a picture or even describe the design. I can’t describe the quirky machining challenges involved, or how I got around them. All I can say is that I did it and leave it at that. Which is a bummer, because a joke with no punchline isn’t a joke at all.

– Tom


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