The XCAN project, which is a three years project and began in 2015, carried out by Thales and the Ecole Polytechnique aims at developing a laser system based on the coherent combination of laser beams produced through a network of amplifying optical fibers. This technique provides an attractive mean of reaching simultaneously the high peak and high average powers required for various industrial, scientific and defense applications. The architecture has to be compatible with very large number of fibers (1000-10000). The goal of XCAN is to overcome all the key scientific and technological barriers to the design and development of an experimental laser demonstrator. The coherent addition of multiple individual phased beams is aimed to provide tens of Gigawatt peak power at 50 kHz repetition rate.
Coherent beam combining (CBC) of fiber amplifiers involves a master oscillator which is split into N fiber channels and then amplified through series of polarization maintaining fiber pre-amplifiers and amplifiers. In the so-called tiled aperture configuration, the N fibers are arranged in an array and collimated in the near field of the laser output. The N beamlets then interfere constructively in the far field, and give a bright central lobe. CBC techniques with active phase locking involve phase mismatch detection, calculation of the correction and phase compensation of each amplifier by means of phase modulators. Interferometric phase measurement has proven to be particularly well suited to phase-lock a very large number of fibers in continuous regime. A small fraction of the N beamlets is imaged onto a camera. The beamlets interfere separately with a reference beam. The phase mismatch of each beam is then calculated from the interferences’ position. In this presentation, we demonstrate the phase locking of 19 fibers in femtosecond pulse regime with this technique.
In our first experiment, a master oscillator generates pulses of 300 fs (chirped at 200 ps). The beam is split into 19 passive channels. Prior to phase locking, the optical path differences are adjusted down to 10 μm with optical delay lines. Interferograms of the 19 fibers are recorded at 1 kHz with a camera. A dedicated algorithm is developed to measure both the phase and the delay between the fibers on a measurement path. The delay and phase shift are thus calculated collectively from a single image and piezo-electric fiber stretchers are controlled in order to ensure compensation of time-varying phase and delay variations. The residual phase shift error is below λ/60 rms. The coherent beam combining is obtained after propagation and compression. The combined pulse width is measured at 315fs. A second experiment was done to coherently combine two amplified channels of the XCAN demonstrator. A residual phase shift error of λ/30 rms was measured in this case.