An optical beam combiner now under development would make it possible to use the outputs of multiple single-mode laser diodes to pump a neodymium: yttrium aluminum garnet (Nd:YAG) non-planar ring oscillator (NPRO) laser while ensuring that the laser operates at only a single desired frequency. Heretofore, an Nd:YAG NPRO like the present one has been pumped by a single multimode laser-diode beam delivered via an optical fiber. It would be desirable to use multiple pump laser diodes to increase reliability beyond that obtainable from a single pump laser diode. However, as explained below, simplistically coupling multiple multimode laser-diode beams through a fiber-optic combiner would entail a significant reduction in coupling efficiency, and lasing would occur at one or more other frequencies in addition to the single desired frequency.

Figure 1. A Pump Beam of Solid Angle Ω has a cross section of area A at incidence upon the front facet of an Nd:YAG NPRO laser crystal.

Figure 1 schematically illustrates the principle of operation of a laser-diode-pumped Nd:YAG NPRO. The laser beam path is confined in a Nd:YAG crystal by means of total internal reflections on the three back facets and a partial-reflection coating on the front facet. The wavelength of the pump beam — 808 nm — is the wavelength most strongly absorbed by the Nd:YAG crystal. The crystal can lase at a wavelength of either 1,064 nm or 1,319 nm — which one depending on the optical coating on the front facet. A thermal lens effect induced by the pump beam enables stable lasing in the lowest-order transverse electromagnetic mode (the TEM00 mode). The frequency of this laser is very stable because of the mechanical stability of the laser crystal and the uni-directional nature of the lasing. The uni-directionality is a result of the combined effects of (1) a Faraday rotation induced by an externally applied magnetic field and (2) polarization associated with non-normal incidence and reflection on the front facet.

Figure 2. Multiple Single-Mode Laser-Diode Beams are focused onto a single narrow spot by use of an array of diffractive microlenses.

In order to restrict lasing to a single frequency, it is necessary to confine the pump beam within the region occupied by the TEM00 mode of the NPRO laser beam near the front facet inside the crystal. In practice, this means that the pump beam must be focused to within a given solid angle (Ω) and area (A). [If a given pump beam has a larger A or larger Ω but its AΩ is equal to or less than the maximum AΩ for single-frequency lasing in the crystal, then an imaging lens can be used to trade A against Ω so that both A and Ω are equal to or smaller than the maximum values for single-frequency lasing. It is possible to do this because it is a basic principle of optics that AΩ is preserved in imaging by a lens.]

The AΩ of a commercial multimode 808-nm laser diode of the type used heretofore is not axisymmetric: instead, it is elliptically distributed about the optical axis and, hence, does not match the circular distribution of a multi-mode fiber of the type used heretofore to deliver a pump beam. As a result of this mismatch, AΩ for the pump beam emerging from the output end of the fiber is increased, typically to near the maximum single-frequency-lasing value in at least one of the planes containing the principal axes of the elliptical distribution. Consequently, it is difficult or impossible to maintain single-frequency lasing when combining the beams from two or more multimode laser diodes.

In the present approach (see Figure 2), the beams from multiple fiber-pigtailed single-mode laser diodes are coupled to single-mode optical fibers that have been placed together in a hexagonal-close-packing planar array. An array of diffractive microlenses, custom-designed and fabricated on a glass substrate by electron-beam lithography, is placed in front of the fiber array. The custom design and position of the lens array are chosen, according to the precisely measured actual positions of the fibers, so that the single-mode beams emerging from all the single-mode optical fibers are focused on the same small circular spot centered on the input face of a suitable multimode optical fiber. In use, the beam emerging from the output end of the multimode fiber would be focused onto the front facet of an Nd:YAG NPRO crystal in the usual way. It is anticipated that the AΩ of the pump light thus incident on the crystal would be less than the maximum single-frequency-lasing value.

This work was done by Duncan Liu, Daniel Wilson, Yueming Qiu, and Siamak Forouhar of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

Innovative Technology Assets Management
Mail Stop 202-233
4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena, CA 91109-8099
(818) 354-2240
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Refer to NPO-42411

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Diffractive Combiner of Single-Mode Pump Laser-Diode Beams

(reference NPO-42411) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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