A method reduces sensitivity to noise in a signal from a laser heterodyne interferometer. The phase-locked loop (PLL) removes glitches that occur in a zero-crossing detector's output [that can happen if the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of the heterodyne signal is low] by the use of an internal oscillator that produces a square-wave signal at a frequency that is inherently close to the heterodyne frequency.

It also contains phase-locking circuits that lock the phase of the oscillator to the output of the zero-crossing detector. Because the PLL output is an oscillator signal, it is glitch-free. This enables the ability to make accurate phase measurements in spite of low SNR, creates an immunity to phase error caused by shifts in the heterodyne frequency (i.e. if the target moves causing Doppler shift), and maintains a valid phase even when the signal drops out for brief periods of time, such as when the laser is blocked by a stray object.

This work was done by Frank Loya and Peter Halverson of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This invention is owned by NASA, and a patent application has been filed. Inquiries concerning nonexclusive or exclusive license for its commercial development should be addressed to

the Patent Counsel
NASA Management Office–JPL.

Refer to NPO-40080.

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Laser Metrology Heterodyne Phase- Locked Loop

(reference NPO-40080) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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This article first appeared in the January, 2009 issue of Photonics Tech Briefs Magazine.

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