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DARPA awards contracts for tunable gamma ray inspection technology development

Gamma ray technology
Photo: DARPA

The US Defense Advanced Research projects Agency (DARPA) has taken the project to develop a transportable, tunable source of gamma rays to the next stage with contract awards to two companies.

The agency selected two California companies for its Gamma Ray Inspection Technology (GRIT) program that can be used for a host of national security, industrial, and medical applications.

Lumitron Technologies and RadiaBeam Technologies started work on the GRIT program in April and are exploring novel approaches to achieve high-intensity, tunable, and narrow-bandwidth sources of gamma ray radiation in a compact, transportable form factor.

GRIT aims to provide a source of tunable, pure x-rays and gamma rays from tens of keV (kilo-electron volts) up through three MeV (mega-electron volts). Currently, tunable and narrow bandwidth gamma ray sources only exist at highly specialized user facilities best suited for basic research and are not able to support broad practical applications. Shrinking these photon sources to a transportable system is the major goal and challenge of the GRIT program.

“If we can develop a transportable system that could be moved to the point of need on a flatbed semi-trailer or rail car, for example, it could transform nondestructive inspection in many areas of interest, such as radiography of critical-use, high-value aircraft or machine parts, or inspection of cargo for contraband,” said Mark Wrobel, program manager for GRIT in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office. “A transportable, tunable gamma ray source could also be useful in mining to identify rare-earth elements in ores or for advanced medical diagnostics to provide more detailed information than is possible with existing X-ray technology.”

The first phase will last 24 months, according to the agency. Depending on whether the performers meet threshold metrics at the end of phase one, DARPA will decide if the program progresses to the next phase.