We have developed and demonstrated a high-duty-cycle asynchronous InGaAsP-based photon counting detector system with near-ideal Poisson response, room-temperature operation, and nanosecond timing resolution for near-infrared applications. The detector is based on an array of Geiger-mode avalanche photodiodes coupled to a custom integrated circuit that provides for lossless readout via an asynchronous, nongated architecture. We present results showing Poisson response for incident photon flux rates up to 10 million photons per second and multiple photons per 3-ns timing bin.
NASA anticipates a significant demand for long-haul communications service from deep-space to Earth in the near future. To address this need, a substantial effort has been invested in developing a free-space laser communications system that can be operated at data rates that are 10-1000 times higher than current RF systems. We have built an end-to-end free-space photon counting testbed to demonstrate many of the key technologies required for a deep space optical receiver. The testbed consists of two independent receivers, each using a Geiger-mode avalanche photodiode detector array. A hardware aggregator combines the photon arrivals from the two receivers and the aggregated photon stream is decoded in real time with a hardware turbo decoder. We have demonstrated signal acquisition, clock synchronization, and error free communications at data rates up to 14 million bits per second while operating within 1 dB of the channel capacity with an efficiency of greater than 1 bit per incident photon.