White-light phase-conjugate mirrors would be incorporated into some optical systems, according to a proposal, as means of correcting for wavefront distortions caused by imperfections in large optical components. The proposal was given impetus by a recent demonstration that white, incoherent light can be made to undergo phase conjugation, whereas previously, only coherent light was known to undergo phase conjugation.

A Phase-Conjugate Mirror would be added to a conventional primary-and-secondary-mirror telescope in the position ordinarily occupied by the imaging instrument(s). A transparent diffractive thin film would also be added to the primary mirror. The phase-conjugate (corrected) image would be diffracted onto the repositioned imaging instruments.
This proposal, which is potentially applicable to almost any optical system, was motivated by a need to correct optical aberrations of the primary mirror of the Hubble Space telescope. It is difficult to fabricate large optical components like the Hubble primary mirror and to ensure the high precision typically required of such components. In most cases, despite best efforts, the components as fabricated have small imperfections that introduce optical aberrations that adversely affect imaging quality.

Correcting for such aberrations is difficult and costly. The proposed use of white-light phase conjugate mirrors offers a relatively simple and inexpensive solution of the aberration-correction problem. Indeed, it should be possible to simplify the entire approach to making large optical components because there would be no need to fabricate those components with extremely high precision in the first place: A white-light phase-conjugate mirror could correct for all the distortions and aberrations in an optical system. The use of white-light phase-conjugate mirrors would be essential for ensuring high performance in optical systems containing lightweight membrane mirrors, which are highly deformable.

As used here, “phase-conjugate mirror” signifies, more specifically, an optical component in which incident light undergoes time-reversal phase conjugation. In practice, a phase-conjugate mirror would typically be implemented by use of a suitably positioned and oriented photorefractive crystal. In the case of a telescope comprising a primary and secondary mirror (see figure) white light from a distant source would not be brought to initial focus on one or more imaging scientific instrument(s) as in customary practice. Instead, the light would be brought to initial focus on a phase-conjugate mirror. The phase-conjugate mirror would send a phase-conjugate image back, along the path of the incoming light, to the primary mirror. A transparent, highly efficient diffractive thin film deposited on the primary mirror would direct the phase-conjugate image to the imaging instrument(s).

This work was done by Donald Frazier and W. Scott Smith of Marshall Space Flight Center, Hossin Abdeldayem of Goddard Space Flight Center, and Partha Banerjee of the University of Dayton. For further information, contact Hossin Abdeldayem at hossin.a.abdeldayem@ nasa.gov. MFS-31683-1