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Air Force Awards Contracts for Laser Technologies Research

Photonics Spectra
Dec 2004
Anne L. Fischer

The US Air Force Research Lab at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico recently announced that 21 companies, schools and other groups have received contracts for developing high-energy laser technology for the US Department of Defense. The $22.2 million in one- and two-year contracts is expected to advance the way laser light is aimed and controlled, the way optics manage beams of laser energy and the way lasers are manufactured.

The contracts run the gamut on laser technologies.

Princeton Lightwave of Cranbury, N.J., received just over $1 million for a two-year project to develop multikilowatt eye-safe solid-state lasers with high efficiency and reduced thermal management problems. The InP-based systems will be configured in diode pump arrays.

Air Force Awards Contracts for Laser Technologies Research
An image generated at Northern Illinois University shows, on the left, a cross-sectional density of a three-dimensional high-intensity electron beam. On the right is the corresponding internal potential computed beam using new multiresolution techniques.

UK-based firm, QinetiQ, received $1.4 million to develop a method to point a laser beam precisely at a target using a combination of adaptive optics to replicate distortion and a fast correlator to help locate the target.

Not all contracts are for development of lasers or guidance systems. A $600,000 award went to Directed Energy Solutions of Colorado Springs, Colo., for the development of a renewable fuel source. The company is studying the production of electronically excited singlet delta oxygen using chemicals rather than a chlorine-BHP reaction.

One of the educational institutions receiving a contract is Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, with $600,000 for a project on free-electron lasers. "What we're developing now is a completely new technique for simulating intense charged-particle beams," said university physicist Court Bohn. "We'll benchmark these simulation tools against real experiments performed in accelerators at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill. Ultimately, our computerized models will allow for quicker improvement and expansion of laser technologies."

The significance of this work for real-world use goes beyond the military. Industries, for example, can use these lasers to process materials in bulk quantities.

"What's needed is a very intense electron beam to produce a high-power laser that could be spread out to cover a broad area and rapidly process large quantities of material," Bohn said. "Generating intense electron beams is a challenge because the electrons repel each other and want to fly apart. The thrust of our research is to understand in detail how to focus the beam and preserve its quality."

The recipients of the contracts were chosen from more than 220 projects submitted last year.


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