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Cobra Fiber-Optic Positioner Upgrade

This technology could be used for applications requiring precise location of a small object within a small circular area, such as in medical lasers.

A prime focus spectrometer (PFS), along with corrective optics, will mount in place of the secondary mirror of the Subaru telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. This will allow simultaneous observations of cosmologic targets. It will enable large-scale galactic archeology and dark energy surveys to help unlock the secrets of the universe.

altTo perform these cosmologic surveys, an array of 2,400 optical fibers needs to be independently positioned within the 498- mm-diameter focal plane of the PFS instrument to collect light from galaxies and stars for spectrographic analyses. To allow for independent re-positioning of the fibers, a very small positioner (7.7 mm in diameter) is required. One hundred percent coverage of the focal plane is also required, so these small actuators need to cover a patrol region of 9.5 mm in diameter. To optimize the amount of light that can be collected, the fibers need to be placed within 5 micrometers of their intended target (either a star or galaxy).

The Cobra Fiber Positioner was designed to meet the size and accuracy requirements stated above. Cobra is a two-degrees-of-freedom mechanism that can position an optical fiber in the focal plane of the PFS instrument to a precision of 5 micrometers. It is a theta-phi style positioner containing two rotary piezo tube motors with one offset from the other, which enables the optic fibers to be placed anywhere in a small circular patrol region. The patrol region of the actuator is such that the array of 2,400 positioners allows for full coverage of the instrument focal plane by overlapping the patrol areas.

A second-generation Cobra positioner was designed based on lessons learned from the original prototype built in 2009. Improvements were made to the precision of the ceramic motor parts, and hard stops were redesigned to minimize friction and prevent jamming. These changes resulted in reducing the number of move iterations required to position the optical fiber within 5 micrometers of its target. At the time of this reporting, there are still many tests to be performed that will validate system level performance, but on an individual level, the Cobra positioner demonstrates excellent performance and will enable the PFS instrument to make unprecedented measurements of the universe.

What is unique about the upgrades made to the Cobra positioner is the improved performance due to the design changes in the hard stops and the ceramic end caps of the motors. Other changes were made to reduce the unit cost of a Cobra positioner without affecting the performance, since thousands of these devices will have to be built for the PFS instrument.

This work was done by Charles D. Fisher, David F. Braun, and Joel V. Kaluzny of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact iaoffice@ jpl.nasa.gov. NPO-48751