High-power fiber lasers (HPFLs) would be made from photonic band gap (PBG) materials, according to the proposal. Such lasers would be scalable in the sense that a large number of fiber lasers could be arranged in an array or bundle and then operated in phase locked condition to generate a superposition and highly directed high-power laser beam. It has been estimated that an average power level as high as 1,000 W per fiber could be achieved in such an array.

ImageExamples of potential applications for the proposed single-fiber lasers include welding and laser surgery. Additionally, the bundled fibers have applications in beaming power through free space for autonomous vehicles, laser weapons, free-space communications, and inducing photochemical reactions in large-scale industrial processes.

The proposal has been inspired in part by recent improvements in the capabilities of single-mode fiber amplifiers and lasers to produce continuous high-power radiation. In particular, it has been found that the average output power of a single strand of a fiber laser can be increased by suitably changing the doping profile of active ions in its gain medium to optimize the spatial overlap of the electromagnetic field with the distribution of active ions. Such optimization minimizes pump power losses and increases the gain in the fiber laser system. The proposal would expand the basic concept of this type of optimization to incorporate exploitation of the properties (including, in some cases, nonlinearities) of PBG materials to obtain power levels and efficiencies higher than are now possible. Another element of the proposal is to enable pumping by concentrated sunlight.

Somewhat more specifically, the proposal calls for exploitation of the properties of PBG materials to overcome a number of stubborn adverse phenomena that have impeded prior efforts to perfect HPFLs. The most relevant of those phenomena is amplified spontaneous emission (ASE), which causes saturation of gain and power at undesirably low levels, and scattering of light from dopants. In designing a given fiber laser for reduced ASE, care must be taken to maintain a correct fiber structure for eventual scaling to an array of many such lasers such that the interactions among all the members of the array would cause them to operate in phase lock. Hence, the problems associated with improving a single-fiber laser are not entirely separate from the bundling problem, and some designs for individual fiber lasers may be better than others if the fibers are to be incorporated into bundles.

Extensive calculations, expected to take about a year, must be performed in order to determine design parameters before construction of prototype individual and fiber lasers can begin. The design effort can be expected to include calculations to optimize overlaps between the electromagnetic modes and the gain media and calculations of responses of PBG materials to electromagnetic fields. Design alternatives and physical responses that may be considered include simple PBG fibers with no intensity dependent responses, PBG fibers with intensity-dependent band-gap shifting (see figure), and broad-band pumping made possible by use of candidate broad-band pumping media in place of the air or vacuum gaps used in prior PBG fibers.

This work was done by Leo DiDomenico and Jonathan Dowling of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Physical Sciences category.

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
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(818) 354-2240
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Refer to NPO-40552, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the July, 2005 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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