We present an experimental evaluation of a multi-aperture laser transmissometer system which profiles long-term laser beam statistics over long paths. While the system was originally designed to measure the aerosol extinction rate, the beam profiling capabilities of the transmissometer system also allows experimental observations of Gaussian beam statistics in weak and strong turbulence. Additionally, measurement of long-term beam spread at the receiver allows the system to estimate a path-averaged C<sub>n</sub><sup>2</sup>, including in strong turbulence regimes where scintillometers experience saturation effects. Additionally, a phase-frequency correlation technique for synchronizing with transmitter ON/OFF modulation in the presence of background ambient light is presented. In application, our ruggedized and weather resistant laser transmissometer system has significant advantages for the measurement and study of aerosol concentration, absorption, scattering, and turbulence properties over multi-kilometer paths, which are crucial for directed energy systems, ground-level free-space optical communication systems, environmental monitoring, and weather forecasting.
Ground to air temperature gradients drive the creation and evolution of optical turbulence in the atmospheric boundary layer. Ground composition is an important factor when observing and measuring the generated optical turbulence. Surface roughness and thermal characteristics influence the formation of optical turbulence eddies. The Space Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) at The Kennedy Space Center offers a unique opportunity to measure the generation and evolution of these turbulent eddies, while also providing a temperature gradient “Step Function” after which turbulence evolution can be analyzed. We present the analysis of data collected on the SLF during May of 2018. Mobile towers instrumented with sonic anemometers are used to examine the statistics of turbulent eddies leaving the increased heat gradient of the runway. This data is compared to an optical scintillometer and other local weather station data. Point and path average C<sub>n</sub><sup>2</sup> data are calculated and attention is given to turbulence spectrum as a function of height above ground.
Researchers from the University of Central Florida recently carried out a series of measurements over a concrete runway and a grass range using a 632.8 nm Gaussian beam propagated for 100 or 125 m at a height of 2 m. Mean intensity and scintillation index contours varied significantly throughout these measurements in ways that corresponded to more than simple isotropy or anisotropy of optical turbulence. A simple theory is developed to show the effect of a nonlinear index of refraction gradient in addition to the possibility of anisotropic turbulence. Theoretical contours are compared to experimental results which seem to indicate the presence of a beam shaping phenomena near the ground in addition to anisotropy.
Recently, the number of optical systems that operate along near horizontal paths within a few meters of the ground has increased rapidly. Examples are LIDAR or optical sensors imbedded in a vehicle, long range surveillance or optical communication systems, a LIFI network, new weather monitoring stations, as well as directed energy systems for defense purposes. Near ground turbulence distortion for optical waves used in those systems cannot be well described by conventional turbulence and beam propagation theory. Phenomena such as anisotropy, micro mirage effects, a temporal negative relation between diurnal dips and altitude, and condensation induced measurement errors are frequently involved. As a result, there is a high risk of defective designs or even failures in those optical systems if the near ground turbulence effects are not well considered. To illustrate such risk, we make C<sub>n</sub><sup>2</sup> measurements by different approaches and cross compare them with associated working principles. By demonstrating the reasons for mismatched C<sub>n</sub><sup>2</sup> results, we point out a few guidelines regarding how to use the general anisotropy theorem and the risk of ignoring it. Our conclusions can be further supported by an advanced plenoptic sensor that provides continuous wavefront data.
Large temperature gradients are a known source of strong atmospheric turbulence conditions. Often times these areas of strong turbulence conditions are also accompanied by conditions that make it difficult to conduct long term optical atmospheric tests. The Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) provides a prime testing environment that is capable of generating strong atmospheric turbulence yet is also easily accessible for well instrumented testing. The Shuttle Landing Facility features a 5000 m long and 91 m wide concrete runway that provides ample space for measurements of atmospheric turbulence as well as the opportunity for large temperature gradients to form as the sun heats the surface. We present the results of a large aperture LED scintillometer, a triple aperture laser scintillometer, and a thermal probe system that were used to calculate a path averaged and a point calculation of C<sub>n</sub><sup>2</sup>. In addition, we present the results of the Plenoptic Sensor that was used to calculate a path averaged C<sub>n</sub><sup>2</sup> value. These measurements were conducted over a multi-day continuous test with supporting atmospheric and weather data provided by the University of Central Florida.
The usage of long-range optical systems for tracking applications encounters regions of deep turbulence throughout propagation. Such conditions lead to the inability to remain on target for a tracked object due to scintillation. To mitigate this issue, a double pass optical system is utilized as a means of tracking enhanced backscatter (EBS) and thus keeping alignment while characterizing turbulent conditions. EBS is detected through image processing algorithms that capture the returning constructive interference from the target. This paper evaluates EBS optical systems using a retro-reflector at a 1 kilometer distance in order to validate theoretical models that typify atmospheric turbulence regarding low-ground propagation. Meteorological conditions are also included in the empirical data obtained for the analysis of atmospheric conditions that contribute to non-homogenous turbulent conditions along the path.
Utilizing a retro-reflector from a target point, the reflected irradiance of a laser beam traveling back toward the transmitting point contains a peak point of intensity known as the enhanced backscatter (EBS) phenomenon. EBS is dependent on the strength regime of turbulence currently occurring within the atmosphere as the beam propagates across and back. In order to capture and analyze this phenomenon so that it may be compared to theory, an imaging system is integrated into the optical set up. With proper imaging established, we are able to implement various post-image acquisition techniques to help determine detection and positioning of EBS which can then be validated with theory by inspection of certain dependent meteorological parameters such as the refractive index structure parameter, Cn<sup>2</sup> and wind speed.
The alternative Bendersky, Kopeika, and Blaunstein (BKB) model of measuring the refractive structure index parameter, Cn<sup>2</sup> has proven to be a reliable, well-used means of quantifying and characterizing the atmospheric turbulence in a given environment. This model relies on various meteorological parameters such as temperature, wind speed, relative humidity, and time of day in order to procure the resulting Cn<sup>2</sup> quantity. Using experimentally confirmed results from a desert environment, the utility of this model may be extended to other climates by adapting temporal hour weights used within the model. The adaptation of these weighted parameters are shown to have a relationship with the unique weather conditions of a given region which are demonstrated by data points collected from two testing ranges located in Florida in addition to archived weather data. The resulting extended model is then compared to commercial scintillometer data for validation.
In order to better understand laser beam propagation through the analysis of the fluctuations in scintillation data, images from a 30 frame per second monochrome camera are utilized. Scintillation is the effect of atmospheric turbulence which is known to disrupt and alter the intensity and formation of a laser signal as it propagates through the atmosphere. To model and understand this phenomenon, recorded video output of a laser upon a target screen is inspected to determine how much of an effect the atmospheric turbulence has disrupted the laser signal as it has been propagated upon a set distance. The techniques of data processing outlined in this paper moves toward a software-based approach of determining the effects of propagation and detection of a laser based on the visual fluctuations caused by the scintillation effect. With the aid of such visual models, this paper examines the idea of implementing mathematical models via software that is then validated by the gathered video data taken at Kennedy Space Center.
The purpose of this research is to evaluate scintillation fluctuations on optical communication lasers and evaluate potential system improvements to reduce scintillation effects. This research attempts to experimentally verify mathematical models developed by Andrews and Phillips  for scintillation fluctuations in atmospheric turbulence using two different transmitting wavelengths. Propagation range lengths and detector quantities were varied to confirm the theoretical scintillation curve. In order to confirm the range and wavelength dependent scintillation curve, intensity measurements were taken from a 904nm and 1550nm laser source for an assortment of path distances along the 1km laser range at the Townes Laser Institute. The refractive index structure parameter (Cn<sup>2</sup>) data was also taken at various ranges using two commercial scintillometers. This parameter is used to characterize the strength of atmospheric turbulence, which induces scintillation effects on the laser beam, and is a vital input parameter to the mathematical model. Data was taken and analyzed using a 4-detector board array. The material presented in this paper outlines the verification and validation of the theoretical scintillation model, and steps to improve the scintillation fluctuation effects on the laser beam through additional detectors and a longer transmitting wavelength. Experimental data was post processed and analyzed for scintillation fluctuations of the two transmitting wavelengths. The results demonstrate the benefit of additional detectors and validate a mathematical model that can be scaled for use in a variety of communications or defense applications. Scintillation is a problem faced by every free space laser communication system and the verification of an accurate mathematical model to simulate these effects has strong application across the industry.