The reliability and lifetime of laser diodes is critical to space missions. The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) mission includes a metrology system that is based upon laser diodes. An operational test facility has been developed to qualify and select, by mission standards, laser diodes that will survive the intended space environment and mission lifetime. The facility is situated in an electrostatic discharge (ESD) certified cleanroom and consist of an enclosed temperature-controlled stage that can accommodate up to 20 laser diodes. The facility is designed to characterize a single laser diode, in addition to conducting laser lifetime testing on up to 20 laser diodes simultaneously.
A standard laser current driver is used to drive a single laser diode. Laser diode current, voltage, power, and wavelength are measured for each laser diode, and a method of selecting the most adequate laser diodes for space deployment is implemented. The method consists of creating histograms of laser threshold currents, powers at a designated current, and wavelengths at designated power. From these histograms, the laser diodes that illustrate a performance that is outside the normal are rejected and the remaining lasers are considered space-borne candidates.
To perform laser lifetime testing, the facility is equipped with 20 custom laser drivers that were designed and built by California Institute of Technology specifically to drive NuSTAR metrology lasers. The laser drivers can be operated in constant-current mode or alternating-current mode. Situated inside the enclosure, in front of the laser diodes, are 20 power-meter heads to record laser power throughout the duration of lifetime testing.
Prior to connecting a laser diode to the current source for characterization and lifetime testing, a background program is initiated to collect current, voltage, and resistance. This backstage data collection enables the operational test facility to have full laser diode traceablity.