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White Paper: Aerospace

Destroy the Target, Not Everything Else


The days are quickly coming when military personnel will no longer be put in harm’s way to defend our country. High-powered Directed Energy laser systems have proven to be an efficient and effective way to neutralize threats. But changes always occur within a laser system, whether because of multi-kilowatt laser thermal effects or the impact of the surrounding environment. Understanding how these changes affect the overall system performance can only be achieved through measurement of the system’s performance.

High-powered lasers that push photons of the magnitude of multiple kilowatts of average or continuous-wave power are more susceptible to thermal effects on their components, as well as increased safety concerns due to risks of eye and skin damage. Additionally, the degradation of components can happen at a faster rate at these higher powers, more quickly resulting in less efficient performance of the system. This white paper takes a look at how these effects and changes to the laser’s system affect the overall system’s performance, both under development and once the system is commissioned, is critical to ensuring successful missions.

For instance, when high quantities of laser light are directed at an intended target, what happens to the beam, during and after the target is destroyed, is a critical safety concern due to the potential for unintended reflection of the beam. To manage the laser light, an operator can use what is called a “beam dump,” an object usually made of a highly absorbent material that is intended to prevent the beam from damaging other objects in the vicinity of the test. Beam dumps are usually inexpensive and readily available. However, they usually break down quickly and become ineffective, either because they were destroyed or turned into highly reflective glass. Sometimes they outgas, producing carcinogenic byproducts. This places unnecessary risks on humans. Fortunately, tools are now available to perform these measurements and, as a result, improve these system designs. Our fighting men and women deserve the best weapons we can give them.

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