Fast Optical Shutter, Chopper, Modulator, and Deflector

Fast Optical Shutter, Chopper, Modulator, and Deflector (LAR-TOPS-223)
New application of a Digital Light Processing mirror/aperture as an optical shutter as a means of improving performance of existing optical instruments
There are numerous experiments and activities in which a laser or light beam needs to be chopped or shuttered (rapidly turned on and off) or modulated spatially or in time. In many applications, shuttering needs to be done rapidly to improve signal-to-noise ratio or improve performance of the optical device being used. Current methods have limited speeds or are excessively large or expensive. The new device can perform these actions using a small, inexpensive, optically and electrically efficient, optically high quality, and computer-controlled method.

The Technology
A laser or a light source is incident on a detector. It usually passes through a shutter that can open and then close to limit the amount of light hitting the detector. There are limitations on the speed, size and cost of such apertures. The design of this technology uses DLP mirror technology. It can rapidly deflect the incoming light beam onto an aperture, which blocks the beam path, or through the aperture, which allows it to go onto the detector. The DLP mirror in this shutter uses an aperture design that is nearly 3 orders of magnitudes faster (shorter exposure time) than similar-sized aperture using conventional commercial-off-the-shelf mechanical shutters and 1-2 orders of magnitude smaller and cheaper than higher-performing custom-made shutters that are used by a few labs around the world. The DLP mirror is actuated via a computer controlled oscillator circuit. A laser beam directed to the mirror is either passed to a target detector, or diverted, based on the inputs from the circuit. In this manner, the DLP mirror / circuit can act as a fast shutter, modulator, or chopper for the light beam. One novel feature of this invention is the application of the DLP to divert a beam onto or off a detector for instrumentation systems.
Interference Deflected onto Aperture while Signal Transmitted to Deflector. Image credit: NASA/Paul M. Danehy
  • Improved signal to noise ratio
  • Two times cheaper than existing technology
  • Three times faster than existing technology
  • Easy to use and maintain

  • High speed optical imaging in medical, communications and scientific research
  • High speed photography or spectroscopy in luminous environments
  • Lithography and laser beam shaping
  • Instruments for pharmaceutical detection, chemical analysis and consumer food analysis
Technology Details

Similar Results
Device prototype in use
Optical Head-Mounted Display System for Laser Safety Eyewear
The system combines laser goggles with an optical head-mounted display that displays a real-time video camera image of a laser beam. Users are able to visualize the laser beam while his/her eyes are protected. The system also allows for numerous additional features in the optical head mounted display such as digital zoom, overlays of additional information such as power meter data, Bluetooth wireless interface, digital overlays of beam location and others. The system is built on readily available components and can be used with existing laser eyewear. The software converts the color being observed to another color that transmits through the goggles. For example, if a red laser is being used and red-blocking glasses are worn, the software can convert red to blue, which is readily transmitted through the laser eyewear. Similarly, color video can be converted to black-and-white to transmit through the eyewear.
Space Optical Communications Using Laser Beams
This invention provides a new method for optical data transmissions from satellites using laser arrays for laser beam pointing. The system is simple, static, compact, and provides accurate pointing, acquisition, and tracking (PAT). It combines a lens system and a vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser VCSEL)/Photodetector Array, both mature technologies, in a novel way for PAT. It can improve the PAT system's size, weight, and power (SWaP) in comparison to current systems. Preliminary analysis indicates that this system is applicable to transmissions between satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO) and ground terminals. Computer simulations using this design have been made for the application of this innovation to a CubeSat in LEO. The computer simulations included modeling the laser source and diffraction effects due to wave optics. The pointing used a diffraction limited lens system and a VCSEL array. These capabilities make it possible to model laser beam propagation over long space communication distances. Laser beam pointing is very challenging for LEO, including science missions. Current architectures use dynamical systems, (i.e., moving parts, e.g., fast-steering mirrors (FSM), and/or gimbals) to turn the laser to point to the ground terminal, and some use vibration isolation platforms as well. This static system has the potential to replace the current dynamic systems and vibration isolation platforms, dependent on studies for the particular application. For these electro-optical systems, reaction times to pointing changes and vibrations are on the nanosecond time scale, much faster than those for mechanical systems. For LEO terminals, slew rates are not a concern with this new system.
OAM light
LIDAR System Noise Reduction
State of the art space-based LIDARs typically require a telescope with sufficient area to increase the return signal on the detector to levels above the noise floor of the detectors. Two major drivers of the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) on the detectors are the laser output energy and the round trip distance traveled by the laser signal. The SNR on the detectors can be increased by increasing the telescope reflector area or by decreasing the system noise. If these techniques are not an option, this method can be used to separate stray light from polarized laser light in the LIDAR system and improve the SNR. The method includes generating a beam of azimuthally polarized or OAM light utilizing an optical transmitter comprising a laser light source. The method includes providing an optical receiver including optical sensors at a focal plane with a photon sieve that produces a ring pattern on the focal plane corresponding to a laser return signal. The ring pattern comprises azimuthally polarized or OAM light that is transmitted by the transmitter and reflected towards the receiver. The photon sieve is utilized to cause stray light that is not polarized to cluster centrally, and away from the ring pattern created by the LIDAR signal. This technology could also be used with space based and terrestrial LIDAR for encrypted line of sight communications. The unique revolution frequencies of the LIDAR make any attempt to intercept the communication pointless for those who don&#39t know the specific mode of the source. The lidar system also has use cases for short range navigation for Urban Air Mobility (UAM) vehicles providing input as to whether there is significant enough clear air turbulence on a given path as to be dangerous to an aerial vehicle.
Front image
Strobing to Mitigate Vibration for Display Legibility
The dominant frequency of the vibration that requires mitigation can be known in advance, measured in real time, or predicted with simulation algorithms. That frequency (or a lower frequency multiplier) is then used to drive the strobing rate of the illumination source. For example, if the vibration frequency is 20 Hz, one could employ a strobe rate of 1, 2, 4, 5, 10, or 20 Hz, depending on which rate the operator finds the least intrusive. The strobed illumination source can be internal or external to the display. Perceptual psychologists have long understood that strobed illumination can freeze moving objects in the visual field. This effect can be used for artistic effect or for technical applications. The present innovation is instead applicable for environments in which the human observer rather than just the viewed object undergoes vibration. Such environments include space, air, land, and sea vehicles, or on foot (e.g., walking or running on the ground or treadmills). The technology itself can be integrated into handheld and fixed display panels, head-mounted displays, and cabin illumination for viewing printed materials.
Fine-pointing Optical Communication System Using Laser Arrays
A new method is described for optical data transmissions from satellites using laser arrays for fine pointing of laser beams that use body pointing. It combines a small lens system and a VCSEL/Photodetector Array in a novel way to provide a fine pointing capability for laser beams that are pointed by body pointing of a CubeSat. As Fig. 1 shows, an incoming laser beam (green or blue, with rightward arrows), transmitted from a ground terminal, enters the lens system, which directs it to an element of the pixel array (gray rectangle). Each element, or pixel, consists of a VCSEL component/photodetector pair. The photodetector detects the incoming beam, and the VCSEL component returns a modulated beam to the lens system (green or blue, with leftward arrows), which sends it to the ground terminal. As the incoming beam changes direction, e.g., from the blue to the green incoming direction, this change is detected by the adjacent photodetector, and the laser paired with that photodetector is turned on to keep the outgoing laser beam on target. The laser beams overlap so that the returning beam continues to point at the ground terminal. The VCSEL component may consist of a single VCSEL or a cluster of VCSELs. Figure 2 shows the propagation of two overlapping laser beams. The system can very accurately point finely focused diffraction-limited laser beams. Also, simultaneous optical multiple access (OMA) is possible from different transceivers within the area covered by the laser array. For this electro-optical system, reaction times to pointing changes and vibrations are on the nanosecond time scale, much faster than mechanical fine pointing systems.
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