A prototype laser beacon assembly provides reference for testing tracking and pointing systems.
The ultra-stable beacon source (USBS) provides a laser-beam output with a very low angular jitter and can be used as an absolute angular reference to simulate a beacon in the laboratory. The laser is mounted on the top of a very short (≈1 m) inverted pendulum (IP) with its optical axis parallel to the carbon fiber pendulum leg. The 85-cm, carbon fiber rods making up the leg are very lightweight and rigid, and are supported by a flex-joint at the bottom (see figure). The gimbal-mounted laser is a weight-adjustable load of about 1.5 kg with its center of rotation co-located with the center of percussion of the inverted pendulum. This reduces the coupling of transverse motion at the base of the pendulum to angular motion of the laser at the top.
The inverted pendulum is mounted on a gimbal with its center of rotation coinciding with the pivot position of the inverted pendulum flexure joint. This reduces coupling of ground tilt at the inverted pendulum base to motion of the laser mounted at the top. The mass of the top gimbal is adjusted to give the pendulum a very low resonant frequency (≈10 mHz) that filters transverse seismic disturbances from the ground where the base is attached.
The motion of the IP is monitored by an optical-lever sensor. The laser light is reflected by the mirror on the IP, and then is detected by a quadrant photodetector (QPD). The position of the beam spot on the QPD corresponds to the tilt of the IP. Damping of this motion is provided by two coil and magnet pairs.
The bottom gimbal mount consists of two plates. The IP is mounted on the second plate. The first plate is supported by two posts through needles and can be rotated about the axis connecting the tips of the needles. The second plate hangs from the first plate and can be rotated about the axis perpendicular to the first plate. As a result, the second plate acts as a two-axis rotation stage. Its center of rotation is located at the effective bending point of the flex-joint. The second plate is pressed against two screw actuators by the weight of the IP. The screw actuators are orthogonal to each other and are used to adjust the inclination of the second plate. The actuators are driven by stepper motors.
The whole IP system is housed in a box made of Lexan plastic plates to provide isolation from air currents and temperature variations. The signals from the sensors are processed and recorded with a PC using the xPC Target realtime environment of MathWorks. The control algorithms are written using the Simulink package from The MathWorks.
This work was done by Yoichi Aso and Szabolcs Marka of Columbia University and Joseph Kovalik of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Ultra-Stable Beacon Source for Laboratory Testing of Optical Tracking (reference NPO-45127) is currently available for download from the TSP library.
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