A document discusses a liquid crystal variable retarder, an electro-optic element that changes the polarization of an optical beam in response to a low-voltage electronic signal. This device can be fabricated so that the element creates, among other states, a half-wave of retardance that can be reduced to a very small retardance. When aligned to a polarized source, this can act to rotate the polarization by 90° in one state, but generate no rotation in the other state. If the beam is then incident on a polarization beam splitter, it will efficiently switch from one path to the other when the voltage is applied. The laser beam switching system has no moving parts, improving reliability over mechanical switching. It is low cost, tolerant of high laser power density, and needs only simple drive electronics, minimizing the required system resources.

This work was done by James Baer of Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. for Johnson Space Center. MSC-25113-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the December, 2012 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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