The presence of oceans on the outer solar system moons Europa and Enceladus poses the question of whether microbial life might be present on those bodies. One approach to answering that question could be a very compact, lightweight and robust microscope that is capable of rapidly imaging the contents of a 3-dimensional sample volume. To this end, we have been developing deployable digital holographic microscopes, which can also be used in the short term for terrestrial field work. A very stable “common-mode” microscope, in which two adjacent beams share several optics, has shown very good imaging performance, and has been deployed successfully to several field sites, including Greenland and Alaska. A more compact approach is our version of the lensless digital holographic microscope, which uses gradient index rod lenses to produce a pair of high numerical-aperture input beams. Sub-micron resolution has been obtained with both systems, and further performance improvements are possible.
ChemCam is an instrument suite on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission that will launch to Mars in 2011. MSL is a rover-type lander that is capable of exploring large territories over the mission lifetime and includes a number of instruments for analysing rocks and soil. ChemCam includes a laser induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS)  instrument that samples the surface chemistry of target objects within about 10 m of the rover without having to physically move to the target to obtain emission spectra in the 240 nm to 800 nm range. The ChemCam laser and sensing telescope are mounted on the rover Remote Sensing Mast (RSM) and have 360 degrees of azimuthal range, and 180 degrees of vertical range, allowing sampling of any object within range and line-of-sight of the mast top. This capability can be used to select targets for further analysis by other MSL instruments.
The LIBS portion of ChemCam is split between the top of the RSM and inside the rover body. The laser and the telescope are located atop the mast and rotate to select and observe targets. The three spectrometers (UV, VIS, and NIR) are located inside the rover body, along with a demultiplexer (demux) that splits the signal into the three bands. The signal from the telescope is transmitted to the demux by the fiber optic cable that is the subject of this paper. The fiber optic cable (FOC) is a single 5.7-m long, broadband, mult-mode fiber that connects the telescope and demux and is exposed to the full martian environment in some places and subjected to significant temperature gradients as it runs from interior areas to exterior areas.
Laser spectral analysis systems are increasingly being considered for in situ analysis of the atomic and molecular composition of selected rock and soil samples on other planets . Both Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) and Raman spectroscopy are used to identify the constituents of soil and rock samples in situ. LIBS instruments use a high peak-power laser to ablate a minute area of the surface of a sample. The resulting plasma is observed with an optical head, which collects the emitted light for analysis by one or more spectrometers. By identifying the ion emission lines observed in the plasma, the constituent elements and their abundance can be deduced. In Raman spectroscopy, laser photons incident on the sample surface are scattered and experience a Raman shift, exchanging small amounts of energy with the molecules scattering the light. By observing the spectrum of the scattered light, it is possible to determine the molecular composition of the sample.
For both types of instruments, there are advantages to physically separating the light collecting optics from the spectroscopy optics. The light collection system will often have articulating or rotating elements to facilitate the interrogation of multiple samples with minimum expenditure of energy and motion. As such, the optical head is often placed on a boom or an appendage allowing it to be pointed in different directions or easily positioned in different locations. By contrast, the spectrometry portion of the instrument is often well-served by placing it in a more static location. The detectors often operate more consistently in a thermally-controlled environment. Placing them deep within the spacecraft structure also provides some shielding from ionizing radiation, extending the instrument’s useful life. Finally, the spectrometry portion of the instrument often contains significant mass, such that keeping it off of the moving portion of the platform, allowing that portion to be significantly smaller, less massive and less robust.
Large core multi-mode optical fibers are often used to accommodate the optical connection of the two separated portions of such instrumentation. In some cases, significant throughput efficiency improvement can be realized by judiciously orienting the strands of multi-fiber cable, close-bunching them to accommodate a tight focus of the optical system on the optical side of the connection, and splaying them out linearly along a spectrometer slit on the other end.
For such instrumentation to work effectively in identifying elements and molecules, and especially to produce accurate quantitative results, the spectral throughput of the optical fiber connection must be consistent over varying temperatures, over the range of motion of the optical head (and it’s implied optical cable stresses), and over angle-aperture invariant of the total system. While the first two of these conditions have been demonstrated, spectral observations of the latter present a cause for concern, and may have an impact on future design of fiber-connected LIBS and Raman spectroscopy instruments. In short, we have observed that the shape of the spectral efficiency curve of a large multi-mode core optical fiber changes as a function of input angle.
Quantitative phase imaging (QPI) has many applications in a broad range of disciplines from astronomy to microbiology. QPI is often performed by optical interferometry, where two coherent beams of light are used to produce interference patterns at a detector plane. Many algorithms exist to calculate the phase of the incident light from these recorded interference patterns as well as enhance their quality by various de-noising methods. Many of these de-noising algorithms, however, corrupt the quantitative aspect of the measurement, resulting in phase contrast images. Among these phase calculation techniques and de-noising algorithms, none approach the optimization of phase measurements by theoretically addressing the various sources of error in its measurement, as well as how these errors propagate to the phase calculations. In this work, we investigate the various sources of error in the measurements required for QPI, as well as theoretically derive the influence of each source of error on the overall phase calculation for three common phase calculation techniques: the four bucket/step method, three bucket/step method, and the Carré method. The noise characteristics of each of these techniques are discussed and compared using error parameters of a readily available CCD sensor array. Additionally, experimental analysis is conducted on interferograms to investigate the influence of speckle noise on the phase measurements of the three algorithms discussed.
Understanding when, how, and if bacteria swim is key to understanding critical ecological and biological processes, from carbon cycling to infection. Imaging motility by traditional light microscopy is limited by focus depth, requiring cells to be constrained in z. Holographic microscopy offers an instantaneous 3D snapshot of a large sample volume, and is therefore ideal in principle for quantifying unconstrained bacterial motility. However, resolving and tracking individual cells is difficult due to the low amplitude and phase contrast of the cells; the index of refraction of typical bacteria differs from that of water only at the second decimal place. In this work we present a combination of optical and sample-handling approaches to facilitating bacterial tracking by holographic phase imaging. The first is the design of the microscope, which is an off-axis design with the optics along a common path, which minimizes alignment issues while providing all of the advantages of off-axis holography. Second, we use anti-reflective coated etalon glass in the design of sample chambers, which reduce internal reflections. Improvement seen with the antireflective coating is seen primarily in phase imaging, and its quantification is presented here. Finally, dyes may be used to increase phase contrast according to the Kramers-Kronig relations. Results using three test strains are presented, illustrating the different types of bacterial motility characterized by an enteric organism (Escherichia coli), an environmental organism (Bacillus subtilis), and a marine organism (Vibrio alginolyticus). Data processing steps to increase the quality of the phase images and facilitate tracking are also discussed.
Future space-based optical interferometers, such as the Space Interferometer Mission Planet Quest (SIM), require thermal stability of the optical wavefront to the level of picometers in order to produce astrometric data at the micro-arc-second level. In SIM, the internal path of the interferometer will be measured with a small metrology beam whereas the starlight fringe position is estimated from a large concentric annular beam. To achieve the micro-arc-second observation goal for SIM, it is necessary to maintain the optical path difference between the central and the outer annulus portions of the wavefront of the front-end telescope optics to a few tens of picometers. The Thermo-Opto-Mechanical testbed (TOM3) was developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to measure thermally induced optical deformations of a full-size flight-like beam compressor and siderostat, the two largest optics on SIM, in flight-like thermal environments. A Common Path Heterodyne Interferometer (COPHI) developed at JPL was used for the fine optical path difference measurement as the metrology sensor. The system was integrated inside a large vacuum chamber in order to mitigate the atmospheric and thermal disturbances. The siderostat was installed in a temperature-controlled thermal shroud inside the vacuum chamber, creating a flight-like thermal environment. Detailed thermal and structural models of the test articles (siderostat and compressor) were also developed for model prediction and correlation of the thermal deformations. Experimental data shows SIM required thermal stability of the test articles and good agreement with the model predictions.
One of humanity's oldest questions is whether life exists elsewhere in the universe. The Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) mission will survey stars in our stellar neighborhood to search for planets and perform spectroscopic measurements to identify potential biomarkers in their atmospheres. In response to the recently published President's Plan for Space Exploration, TPF has plans to launch a visible-light coronagraph in 2014, and a separated-spacecraft infrared interferometer in 2016. Substantial funding has been committed to the development of the key technologies that are required to meet these goals for launch in the next decade. Efforts underway through industry and university contracts and at JPL include a number of system and subsystem testbeds, as well as components and numerical modeling capabilities. The science, technology, and design efforts are closely coupled to ensure that requirements and capabilities will be consistent and meet the science goals.
Four teams incorporating scientists and engineers from more than 50 universities and 20 engineering firms have assessed techniques for detecting and characterizing terrestrial planets orbiting nearby stars. The primary conclusion from the effort of the past two years is that with suitable technology investment starting now, a mission to detect terrestrial planets around 150 nearby stars could be launched within a decade. Missions of smaller scale could carry out more modest programs capable of detecting and characterizing gas giant planets around tens of stars and of detecting terrestrial planets around the nearest stars.