Laser radar for entry, descent, and landing (EDL) applications as well as the space docking problem could benefit from a low size, weight, and power (SWaP) beam control system. Moreover, an inertia free approach employing non-mechanical beam control is also attractive for laser radar that is intended to be employed aboard space platforms. We are investigating a non-mechanical beam steering (NMBS) sub-system based on liquid crystal polarization grating (LCPG) technology with emphasis placed on improved throughput and significant weight reduction by combining components and drastically reducing substrate thicknesses. In addition to the advantages of non-mechanical, gimbal free beam control, and greatly improved SWaP, our approach also enables wide area scanning using a scalable architecture. An extraterrestrial application entails additional environmental constraints, consequently an environmental test plan tailored to an EDL mission will also be discussed. In addition, we will present advances in continuous fine steering technology which would complement the coarse steering LCPG technology. A low-SWaP, non-mechanical beam control system could be used in many laser radar remote sensing applications including meteorological studies and agricultural or environmental surveys in addition to the entry, descent, and landing application.
Liquid crystal polarization gratings (LCPGs) represent a relatively new technology capable of nonmechanically and efficiently steering light over a large field-of-regard in discrete steps. Due to their reliance on thin liquid crystal cells instead of mechanical moving parts, LCPG beam steering systems are attractive options for steering both active and passive optical sensors, especially in size, weight, and power (SWaP)-constrained platforms. This paper describes recent developments in large-aperture LCPG steering systems and summarizes the performance being achieved.
Over the last few years, Boulder Nonlinear Systems (BNS) and North Carolina State University (NCSU) have developed
a new beam steering technique that uses a stack of thin liquid crystal polarization gratings (LCPGs) to efficiently and
non-mechanically steer a beam over a large field-of-regard (FOR) in discrete steps. This technology has been
successfully transferred to BNS through an exclusive license agreement, and a facility has been completed to enable
commercial production of these devices. This paper describes the capabilities enabled by both the LCPGs and the
successful transfer of this technology.
We introduce and demonstrate a compact, nonmechanical beam steering device based on liquid Crystal (LC)
Polarization Gratings (PGs). Directional control of collimated light is essential for free-space optical communications,
remote sensing, and related technologies. However, current beam steering methods often require moving
parts, or are limited to small angle operation, offer low optical throughput, and are constrained by size and
weight. We employ multiple layers of LCPGs to achieve wide-angle (> ±40°), coarse beam steering of 1550
nm light in a remarkably thin package. LCPGs can be made in switchable or polymer materials, and possess
a continuous periodic birefringence profile, that renders several compelling properties (experimentally realized):
~ 100% experimental diffraction efficiency into a single order, high polarization sensitivity, and very low scattering.
Light may be controlled within and between the zero- and first-diffraction orders by the handedness of
the incident light and potentially by voltage applied to the PG itself. We implement a coarse steering device
with several LCPGs matched with active halfwave LC variable retarders. Here, we present the preliminary
experimental results and discuss the unique capability of this wide-angle steering.