A new large-area net-shape crystal extraction (LANCE) project has been started by Rubicon Technology for the development of large-area sapphire windows of optical quality for military sensing applications.

Supported by a grant from the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), the three-year project has a maximum potential value of $4.7m, and will specifically involve the manufacture of very large polished sapphire infrared (IR) windows for the air force.

Raja Parvez, Rubicon Technology president and CEO, said sapphire features exceptional physical and optical qualities that provide several benefits in applications, such as military IR windows.

”This research sets the stage for many defence and industrial applications for large sapphire windows of exceptional optical quality,” Parvez added.

According to the company, production will start with intermediate sizes and advances to as large as 36in x 18in x 0.8in windows, depending up on the existing and future requirements of the air force.

The LANCE project, which is based on the company’s innovation in crystal growth technology, will develop two-inch thick panels that can be cut into multiple windows of varying thickness to address the needs of AFRL’s defence and industrial applications.

Current growth technologies employed for the development of high-quality large-area sapphire crystals fail to generate the thickness required for demanding defence applications.

Due to its hardness and strength as well as transparency in the visible and IR spectrum, sapphire is widely suited for military and other high-performance applications.

The mineral possesses excellent thermal conductivity, shock resistance, abrasion resistance, high melting-point and chemical inertness, making it suitable for use in IR windows in extreme environments providing equal importance to both material durability and optical clarity.