Kris Merkel, President &CEO
Today, a variety of system designers working in communication, infrastructure, instrumentation, and aerospace and defense are facing complex challenges to meet ever-increasing bandwidth demands in a complex and highly congested radio frequency (RF) spectrum. Against this backdrop, Kris Merkel, President and CEO of S2 Corporation, and fellow founders of the company have spent the lion’s share of the last fifteen years engaged in the R&D of photonic signal processors and receivers. Realizing that the concept shouldn’t be confined to the physics departments of universities’ laboratories, the company was determined to develop a commercial signal processor for critical, wide bandwidth applications based on the idea of using a doped crystal as a core component. In doing so, S2 has pushed boundaries of innovation to develop wideband sensors and expand RF signal processing and monitoring capabilities in dynamic environments. “Our vision was to get the technology out of the lab, with mature components, as well as attain progress through different stages of development to reach a consistent level of efficiency and functionality,” begins Kris.
Since its inception, the company has provided revolutionary RF and digital signal processing solutions using its proprietary photonic spatial-spectral (S2) holographic technology. The firm’s core system, Extreme Bandwidth Analyzer, and Correlator (EBAC), enables commercial deployment and utilization of its technology for total RF spectral awareness and adaptation. The EBAC system facilitates electronic warfare and signals intelligence, analog signal processing, mining, and continuous RF monitoring, along with offering other groundbreaking capabilities that enable S2’s Spectrum Analyzer to stand out from today’s photonics market competition. Recalling S2’s efforts for developing the EBAC system, Kris says, “As a company, we took on this longterm challenge of changing the paradigm of radio spectrum awareness and digital signal processing.”
The Radio Spectrum in a Flash
Designed and developed by its team of in-house engineers, the EBAC system’s critical components consist of holographic materials and low-vibration cryostat. The holographic materials encompass atomic-scale memory processing and inherent large-scale parallel addressing. Its most critical component is the doped crystalline structures that facilitate extremely wideband optical absorption lines. These lines are formed due to multiple stacks of resonances, each with an ultra-narrow high-resolution spectral response. Thus, the crystalline structures can remember if they were illuminated by a light beam such as an optical disk and the frequency and amplitude of the light that illuminated them. “The crystal is not an optical computer that’s going to replace a laptop, but it works as a multi-configurable processor that performs massive Fourier transforms very well,” explains Kris.
This unique processing capability makes S2’s EBAC system well-suited for signal processing, offering a 100 percent probability of intercept spectral awareness with high fidelity. It is currently configured to process radio frequencies between 0.5 - 40 GHz but can be modified to cover all frequencies up to 110 GHz instantaneously.
The Spectrum Analyzer needs an efficient and robust cooling system with all that processing power. For this purpose, S2 has developed low vibration, cryogen-free cryostats. This cooling system is designed to allow quick and easy access with minimal downtime, using removable sample plates.
S2 has also introduced an innovative wideband radio frequency Spectrum Analyzer and spectrum monitoring system based on proprietary EBAC technology. The Spectrum Analyzer detects RF frequencies from extreme-bandwidth RF antennas, converts them into optical carrier signals, and processes them through the crystallized material doped with rare-earth ions to generate amplitude-frequency data. This massive amount of digital and analog data is processed in minimal time by prefiltering or pre-processing the analog input signals from RF antennas and removing noise signals. This eliminates the need to digitize the entire radio spectrum and improves the efficiency of the signal processing operations. Another unique aspect of the S2 Spectrum Analyzer is that it can be customized for users’ specific bandwidth requirements and applications such as data-mining, geotracking, waveform generation, and more. Elaborating more on the practicality of S2’s Spectrum Analyzer, Kris states, “The system can be set up anywhere and doesn’t have to be right near the antenna. One could connect fiber optic cables to the box and create a fiber-optic network of antennas.” Owing to this capability, users can install the system anywhere they desire, whether at the top of a tower or inside a building.
Shaping a New Paradigm in Radio Frequency and Data Signal Processing
Our vision was to get the technology
out of the lab, with mature components, as well as progress through different
stages of development to reach a
consistent level of efficiency and functionality
Set in a quiet mountain town of Bozeman, Montana, world-renowned for offering adventure and nature enthusiasts a plethora of outdoor activities such as skiing, hiking, camping, and fishing, S2 was established to develop, advance, deploy, and commercialize its revolutionary spatial-spectral (S2) holography technology. Currently, the organization has 20 issued patents for its revolutionary EBAC technology. Considering how S2’s technology can detect even the weakest RF signals and provide a view of the spectrum in real-time efficiently, its comparison ability to supervise across the electromagnetic spectrum appears entirely accurate. The company has active customers within the US Department of Defense, who use its Spectrum Analyzer during routine testing evaluation exercises, electronic warfare, border patrolling, and crossing. The sheer speed and scale at which the company’s solution processes signals enable users to execute defense operations with high accuracy, efficiency, and reliability in real-time. Last year, the company the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) project contracted to prototype and demonstrate a broadband electromagnetic spectrum receiver system. Another sector where S2’s Spectral Analyzer displays its outstanding performance is test and measurement, where the system provides pictures of the RF spectrum and helps the users generate usable data. Furthermore, the company is actively collaborating with several organizations, including Montana State University, Montana Photonics Alliance, National Spectrum Consortium, to name a few.
Since its first successful field test ten years ago, S2’s EBAC technology has progressed remarkably, and its latest versions use smaller and more rugged components that are significantly more power-efficient than conventional systems. Today, the company has proven itself as a pioneer and is shaping a new paradigm in RF and data signal processing with its innovations for years to come. Speaking about the philosophy of S2, Kris replies, “We are risk-takers and innovators, who are very passionate to see this innovation benefit the world at large.” As part of its latest endeavors, S2 is executing a lowrate production, and its current go-tomarket is the commercial use cases where its technology is viable. In parallel, the company is working on developing multiple platforms that will enable fixed-ground and hybrid capabilities by transmitting and receiving energy through the air. “Our vision is to dominate the RF spectrum analysis sector by shaping a new paradigm of innovation,” concludes Kris.