Navy

Non-mechanical laser beam steering (NMBS) tracking system

Provides the coarse steering advantage of a polarization grating (PG) and also the continuous fine steering advantage of a steerable electro-evanescent optical refractor (SEEOR)

Photonics

Commercial and military laser devices generally use mechanically controlled (gimbaled) mirrors to aim, steer, and scan laser beams. Such systems have several disadvantages: weight, size, power consumption, mechanical breakdown, and time delays in steering.

Considerable resources have been spent to find acceptable alternatives to this gimbaled approach which can also cover wide fields of regard with high-accuracy, fine beam pointing.

Two approaches to eliminate the mechanical gimbals have been developed in the last decade. One uses a SEEOR continuous steerer for fine beam control. The other approach employs a series of PGs

to discretely cover a wide field. Each of these techniques has limitations to completely (continuously) cover a wide field with no dead spots. The SEEOR approach requires an enormous number of liquid crystal prisms to cover a wide field although each SEEOR refractor does an excellent job of fine beam control within a narrower field. The PG approach easily obtains a wide field but requires many layers to get to high-resolution, fine tracking since it discretely splits the field in two—hence 12 PG layers will get 4096 fine-resolution beam positions.

Navy researchers have combined the two approaches into a single non-mechanical optical beam steering device. To achieve a hemispherical laser beam pointer with SEEOR only would require at least 48 SEEOR devices. To achieve milliradian precision pointing with PG only would likely require at least 26 PG devices. The combined integrated approach of the Navy provides the same precision fine pointing and wide field of regard by employing far less hardware, in this case, 6 PG’s and a single SEEOR.

The NMBS has a number of potential applications including.

  • as a laser transmitter or a two-way laser transceiver
  • as a passive optical device,
  • for any total field of regard up to complete spherical coverage
  • in a commanded point-to-a-specific-angle or in a pre-programmed scanning mode
  • in any combination of devices to cover more than one waveband
  • for any input-output instantaneous field of view for incoming light or laser beam divergence being emitted from the non-mechanical beam steerer when used in operational modes such as the laser transmitter, two-way laser transceiver, and passive optical device

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