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Laser Technology for Astronomical Adaptive Optics
Donald Gavel* UCO/Lick Observatory, University of California Santa Cruz, 1156 High St., Santa Cruz, CA 95064
In this paper we review the current status of work in the sodium guidestar laser arena from the perspective of an astronomical AO system developer and user. Sodium beacons provide the highest and most useful guidestars for the 8m and larger class telescopes, but unfortunately sodium lasers are expensive and difficult to build at high output powers. Here we present highlights of recent advancements in the laser technology. Perhaps most dramatic are the recent theoretical and experimental efforts leading to better understanding the physics of coupling the laser light to the upper altitude sodium for best return signal. In addition we will discuss the key issues which affect LGS AO system performance and their technology drivers, including: pulse format, guidestar elongation, crystal and fiber technology, and beam transport. Keywords: laser guide stars, sodium layer, adaptive optics
In 2006-7, a series of workshops on Laser Technology and Systems for Astronomy was held under the auspices of the NSF Center for Adaptive Optics. The purpose of the workshops was to exchange information and decide where key investments should be made in sodium laser guidestar technology to meet the needs of advanced laser guide star systems envisioned for the large telescopes. Participants included laser engineers, AO instrument makers, and astronomers worldwide who were using and/or interested in laser guidestar technology. This paper summarizes the status of Sodium guidestar lasers, both in use and under development, as presented by the participants, and gives a synopsis of what we learned at the workshops. Sodium guidestars (where the laser is resonant with the sodium D2 line at 589 nm) are the main focus of attention because the sodium is at high altitude (90 km) and has a high cross section density product. Hence it is the most likely choice for high-Strehl AO systems on existing large and future extremely large telescopes. We discuss the very interesting and mainly unsolved issues regarding the choice of laser pulse and spectral format for best coupling to the mesospheric sodium layer and for optimum return signal. We also mention the practical advantages of certain laser formats that trade off with the design and performance of the overall AO system.
2. LASER GUIDESTAR SYSTEMS
Table 1 contains a list of current sodium guidestars on telescopes throughout the world, along with the relevant properties and performance. This is a snapshot of the list kept on the Twiki web page http://lao.ucolick.org/twiki/bin/view/CfAO/SodiumLaserGuidestars. The author apologizes in advance if the list presented here is not fully up to date or complete as of this SPIE publication date. Corrections and additions are most welcome. The web page can be edited directly (these are “wiki” like pages) or by contacting the author. The main motivation for the laser technology workshops was the realization that there are large differences in the measured return (per unit area per unit time per unit projected laser power) in present on-sky systems, and, given that laser power at the sodium D2 wavelength (589 nm) is generally very expensive these days, we ought to come to some consensus on the general type of laser that should be implemented in future systems. Table 2 shows a list of new lasers under construction or development.
Adaptive Optics Systems, edited by Norbert Hubin, Claire E. Max, Peter L. Wizinowich, Proc. of SPIE Vol. 7015, 70150J, (2008) 0277-786X/08/$18 · doi: 10.1117/12.796637 Proc. of SPIE Vol. 7015 70150J-1
Table 1. Lasers in use at observatories Facility Lick Mt. Hamilton Starfire Optical Range W. M. Keck Observato ry Principal Investigators Claire Max, Don Gavel Bob Fugate, Craig Denman Laser Maker and Type LLNL Tunable Dye SOR Solid state, resonant sumfrequency generator Return / Watt (nominal) 10 ph/s/cm2/W 100 ph/s/cm2/W seasonal average Average Power Apparent onsky Spot Size 2 arcsec seeing limited 1.4-3 arcsec (site has r0=7.8cm avg) 1.8" x 2.3" (average stacked) as good as 2.3 FWHM arcsec in 1.0 arcsec V-band seeing @ 5.5 W power Currently fixing launch telescope problems
Richard Dekany, Ed Kibblewhite Masanori Iye, Yutaka Hayano
LLNL Tunable Dye University of Chicago Solid state sumfrequency modelocked 
30-130 ph/s/cm2/W 
solid state sumfrequency Lockheed-Martin Coherent Technologies diode-pumped solid state 1.06+1.32micron sum-frequency laser  Max Planck Institutes Tunable Dye 
Gemini North Very Large Telescope
Francois Rigaut, Celine D'Orgeville Domenico Bonaccini Calia
unreported 27photons/cm^2/s/ W (laser power projected to the sky, i.e. out of the LLT) with linear polarization (~30% increase with circular polarization)
4.7 W ~12 W at the ouput of the laser, ~9W projected to the sky;
measurement made in May 2005, during season of lowest sodium abundance
Table 2. New Sodium Laser Development Institution Lockheed-Martin Coherent Technologies (LMCT) Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) Lockheed-Martin Coherent Technologies (LMCT) PI Allen Tracy, Allen Hankla Dee Pennington, Jay Dawson Sponsor Laser Type Sum frequency solid state, 1319nm+1064nm into PPSLT, modular pulse format Sum frequency fiber, 1583nm+938nm into PPSLT, modular pulse format, 500 MHz linewidth Sum frequency solid state, 1319nm+1064nm into LBO, 0.7 nm pulse every 12 ns quasi CW Doubled 1178 nm fiberRaman, modulated CW (to 1GHz) or Q switched micropulse Progress Reference
1.5 W / 10 W goal
AODP and CfAO Keck I and Gemini South Telescopes
Allen Hankla Domenico Bonaccini Calia
3.5 W / 5-10 W goal >40W of 589nm demonstrated in the lab for GS laser (October 2007) Demonstrated modulated CW, 4.2 W @ 589 nm
European Southern Observatory
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3. SODIUM INTERACTION AND RETURN SIGNAL
Lasers that have built for astronomy AO have had a variety of pulse and spectral formats. These formats have a critical effect on how bright the guidestar will be for a given laser power and hence should be an important consideration for system design in addition to raw laser power. Unfortunately, the interaction physics are not easy to calculate given the complexity of the sodium atom, and is a subject of longstanding and current research  . Of the sodium lasers that have been tested on-sky so far, the narrow band CW laser, with projected light circularly polarized, seems to be producing the highest photon return per Watt . However, some pulsed lasers, are also producing returns approaching the CW, and there are indications from theoretical analysis that some variant of pulse and spectral format could produce a still much higher return efficiency. Recently, analysis by Paul Hillman  of the Starfire Optical Range has led to a possible explanation for why return from a broad spectrum laser, i.e. with power distributed densely over the mesospheric sodium’s Doppler bandwidth of ~ 1 GHz, does not produce as bright a laser as a narrow (10kHz) line, even though the CW line only interacts with a small fraction of the atoms. Hillman provides an analysis of why each 10 MHz wide Doppler class within the 1 GHz Dopplerbroadened sodium line must be treated separately with respect to the entire spectrum of incident laser light, especially when the laser spectrum is broader than 10 MHz. The reason for this is that the sodium atom’s coupling to the photon is complicated by the complex hyperfine splitting of the sodium D2 line. It is possible to achieve resonance with some of the allowed transitions, but this affects the populations, that is, the percentages of atoms within given energetic states. With proper laser spectral format it is possible to have a condition known as optical pumping, where atoms are preferentially driven to a non-equilibrium state all resonant to the laser. It is also possible (and perhaps unfortunately easier) to cause the desired transition states to become depleted, causing the return signal to quench. Ed Kibblewhite has suggested chirping the laser in conjunction with optical pumping to follow the change in resonance due to atomic recoil . This will possibly offer an enhancement as recoiled atoms move into adjacent Doppler classes where additional available atoms can also resonate with the chirped laser. The SOR has built a second narrow band CW laser and was, for a short time before this laser had to be delivered to its customer/user, was able to perform several interesting on-sky tests. One test was to tune the first laser to the D2a line for optical pumping and tune the second laser to the D2b line for back-pumping the atoms “lost” to the ground state during the pumping process. The back-pumping scheme seemed to work, providing the expected brightness improvement . A second test was to try to measure the population shift due to recoil . The results of this test have low signal to noise and are still being analyzed. A third test was to check if two narrow lines separated in frequency enough so that in theory they do not interfere with each others’ optical pumping, would produce the optically pumped response of a single narrow line of equivalent laser power (accounting for the density differences of atoms responding to the two frequencies). The initial results of this test are somewhat disappointing in that the lines still seem to be interacting to quench response slightly (~15%). What would cause this is still under investigation. We now describe some of the key issues under investigation that a potential user should remain aware of: Optical Pumping. Optical pumping occurs when one preferred atomic transition is excited by the frequency of the incident laser and selection rules tend to shift the population so that most of the atoms are in one or the other state of this transition. Optical pumping can occur with linearly polarized incident light (the F2 to F’3 transition, with MF=MF’=0), or with circularly polarized incident light (F2 to F’3 transition with MF=2 and MF’=3). Circular pumping is preferred because the circularly polarized transition has an enhanced return towards the laser source. Spectral Content of the Laser. The laser for various practical reasons may need to have energy spread out in frequency. There would also be a “multiplexing” advantage of being able to use the additional atoms available at other frequencies within the Doppler broadened D2 line. The difficulty is in avoiding the cross-talk that could spoil optical pumping as described earlier. A spectral format that has 9 or 10 lines spaced at >200 MHz across the D2a line is being investigated. This will be discussed in the next section. Pulse Format of the Laser. The width and energy concentration of laser pulses matters to the sodium response. We discuss this further in the next section also.
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Competing Processes: Earth’s magnetic field. Competing processes tend to spoil optical pumping because they couple to and thus redistribute the atom population away from the desired resonant states. The geomagnetic field acts to redistribute magnetic sublevel populations in approximately the 1 µs time frame , the degree of loss depending on the relative angle of the geomagnetic field to the laser propagation direction. The effect will thus depend on telescope pointing angle as well as telescope site location. A group at ESO has evaluated the geomagnetic field relative angles vs alt-az and earth lat-long . One possible mitigation for geomagnetic loss is to confine the laser power to short (<1 microsec) pulses so all the atoms are pumped before they remix due to magnetic field . Competing Processes: collisions. Collisions of the sodium atom with other atoms in the mesosphere (mostly Nitrogen, possibly Oxygen) cause the energetic state to change randomly. This thermal renormalization is thought to occur over time scales of ~100 microseconds . With a suitably intense incident wave, say a 5-10 Watt laser concentrated in one or a few narrow lines, the optical pumping takes place on a much faster time scale, so there is not much depletion from the resonant states due to collisions. However, collisions can help recover from depletion by putting atoms back into the states addressed by the laser line. Recoil. Each atom, when it absorbs a photon, receives that photon’s linear momentum and thus is accelerated away from the laser. The re-emission is random (symmetric in all directions for linear polarized, symmetric in forward and backward directions for circular polarized) so there is not a net radial (along line from atom to laser) acceleration due to emission. Atomic recoil could possibly be used to advantage in a future laser design with chirped frequency to follow the Doppler shift in resonant frequency. This also can possibly pick up additional new atoms in adjacent Doppler bins as the line is swept into them. Recoil dynamics and response is currently under investigation in theoretical and experimental work .
4. PULSE FORMATTING AND SYSTEMS ISSUES
There are two basic reasons for wanting to pulse a sodium guidestar laser rather than using pure CW illumination. The first is to broaden the laser bandwidth to cover the Doppler broadened D2 line via transform broadening. E.g. a 1 ns pulse has spectral power over 1 GHz. A second reason to pulse the laser is to allow gating of the wavefront sensor detector to avoid Rayleigh backscatter (essentially noise to the wavefront sensor) and/or to mitigate spot elongation by tracking a pulse as it goes through the finite thickness sodium layer. We’ll focus on each of these applications one at a time. A pulse train of 1 ns pulses spaced 5 ns apart would produce a “picket fence” of lines over 1 GHz, spaced 200 MHz apart, which might gain the pumping advantage of a single narrow band line. If the pulse train is long enough, then each line addresses a single Doppler bin (the so called quasi-CW or macro-pulse format). The long-pulse gate-enabling formats are targeted to improving overall AO system performance. A pulse format such as those illustrated in Figure 1 will allow a chopper wheel or gated wavefront sensor camera to blank out the first 20 km of Rayleigh (Nitrogen) and Mie (particulate) backscatter. This might prove essential for eliminating “fratricide” in multiguidestar tomographic sensing, where one guidestar Rayleigh beam crosses into the field of view or another’s sodium beacon wavefront sensor. Spot elongation could be mitigated with a 3 microsecond pulse or pulse burst that is then tracked as it traverses the sodium layer. 3 microseconds corresponds to a pulse length of 1 km, thus a 10:1 compression of elongation is achieved, assuming 10km as the thickness of the sodium layer. This pulse can be either opto-mechanically tracked or tracked on the wavefront sensor CCD camera via chip-clocking. The pulse could be transmitted every round trip time (600 microsec x Sec(zenith angle)) and thus would also enable Rayleigh blanking. A tricky variant would be to have more than one pulse in the atmosphere at once. Even several pulses in the sodium layer at once could work with a tracking CCD and a correlation centroiding algorithm providing the compression. It is difficult to specify a format that accommodates both Rayleigh blanking and pulse tracking if there are practical limitations that require the laser’s duty cycle to be greater than a few percent. These restrictions are typically imposed by inability to hold off undesirable spontaneous emission in a pulse amplifier during the “off” period. There is a tremendous amount to be gained from pulse tracking, perhaps a factor of 3-5 in laser power for the ELTs. This is of course to be traded against the added complexity of the laser and pulse tracking wavefront sensor system. The gain from Rayleigh gating is still under investigation, since it enters into the systematics of wavefront measurement error in a complicated way. Nevertheless, it will offer some non-negligible degree of benefit.
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. , 0
Figure 1. Pulse formats for Rayleigh gating for a zenith pointing laser. Left: This example shows a single 160 microsecond pulse’s round trip. Receiver blanking for at least 300 microseconds after launch is needed to block Rayleigh from below 20 km. Tracks of the pulse tip and tail are shown. The pulse is received between 570 and 790 microseconds after launch. The repetition frequency is 1.25 kHz Right: Rayleigh blanking format with two pulses in the air at once, carefully timed to allow a 20% laser duty cycle: a 70 microsecond pulse running at 2.8 kHz.
Another important system issue is the means of transporting laser power from the laser to the beacon launch telescope. Typically the laser, because it is big and heavy, is located on a Nasmyth platform or on the dome floor while the laser launch telescope is placed behind the secondary mirror, at the top end of the telescope structure. Several existing systems use free-space beam transport to direct the beam up the telescope structure. A more convenient transport method is via a fiber optic cable. Only specially designed fibers, the photonics crystal fibers, can handle the high powers needed for guide star lasers today, and these only if the pulse format is suitable: spread out in frequency or (transform-equivalently) short pulse. The Subaru telescope has successfully transported a short pulse laser during their recent first light tests .
5. SODIUM LASER TECHNOLOGY
There have been a number of design approaches taken for generating high-power 589 nm laser light. All of the more recent solid-state designs depend on mixing infrared lasers in a nonlinear crystal to produce a visible output. The nonlinear mixing caused by high flux in crystal material such as KTP, LBO, or PPSLT will act to sum the frequencies of the two mixed wavelengths. Laser designers have often tried to choose the pair of IR frequencies so that at least one of the wavelengths is produced with a commercial or otherwise easily constructed laser. The popular pairs today are 1024 (standard YaG line) and 1319 nm  , 1583 (in a fiber optic communications band) and 938 nm , and 1178 nm doubled . Successful solid state IR lasers have been realized in Q switched  or freerunning cavities , and in fiber amplifiers . It is likely possible to modulate an inherently CW laser using fast electro-optic switches so as to mimic the pulse formats of the Q switched lasers. In addition, electro-optic phase modulation can be used in a CW laser to set up sidebands at discrete frequencies other than the fundamental should this prove to be a preferred format either for addressing additional Doppler bins or to help reduce nonlinearity induced parasitic oscillations in the laser amplifier. The fiber amplifiers have difficulty with nonlinearity effects at high power density (stimulated Brillouin scattering), thus they are being designed to run with wide bandwidth, or with power spread over many narrow lines within the Doppler profile.
Laser technology and understanding of sodium physical interaction with the laser photon have advanced significantly over the last few years. However, there is much more work to be done and unknown phenomena to be understood before we can definitively converge on a laser type that will be best or clearly preferred one for sodium gudestar adaptive optics. There is a definite possibility of a great payoff: a bright sodium beacon with minimal laser power and therefore much reduced expense per laser as we advance into the era of multi-beacon AO for large telescopes.
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This work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center for Adaptive Optics (CfAO), managed by the University of California at Santa Cruz under cooperative agreement AST 98-76783. The author would like to thank especially the participants in the CfAO sponsored workshops on Laser Technology for Astronomical Adaptive Optics in November 2006 and April and November 2007. The insightful discussions and interchange of ideas there have been an inspiration and have been of enormous benefit to the AO community.
  
        
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