We are developing a stable and precise spectrograph for the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) named “iLocater.” The instrument comprises three principal components: a cross-dispersed echelle spectrograph that operates in the YJ-bands (0.97-1.30 μm), a fiber-injection acquisition camera system, and a wavelength calibration unit. iLocater will deliver high spectral resolution (R~150,000-240,000) measurements that permit novel studies of stellar and substellar objects in the solar neighborhood including extrasolar planets. Unlike previous planet-finding instruments, which are seeing-limited, iLocater operates at the diffraction limit and uses single mode fibers to eliminate the effects of modal noise entirely. By receiving starlight from two 8.4m diameter telescopes that each use “extreme” adaptive optics (AO), iLocater shows promise to overcome the limitations that prevent existing instruments from generating sub-meter-per-second radial velocity (RV) precision. Although optimized for the characterization of low-mass planets using the Doppler technique, iLocater will also advance areas of research that involve crowded fields, line-blanketing, and weak absorption lines.
The demonstration of efficient single-mode fiber (SMF) coupling is a key requirement for the development of a compact, ultra-precise radial velocity (RV) spectrograph. iLocater is a next generation instrument for the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) that uses adaptive optics (AO) to inject starlight into a SMF. In preparation for commissioning iLocater, a prototype SMF injection system was installed and tested at the LBT in the Y-band (0.970–1.065 <i>μ</i>m). This system was designed to verify the capability of the LBT AO system as well as characterize on-sky SMF coupling efficiencies. SMF coupling was measured on stars with variable airmasses, apparent magnitudes, and seeing conditions for six half-nights using the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer. We present the overall optical and mechanical performance of the SMF injection system, including details of the installation and alignment procedure. A particular emphasis is placed on analyzing the instrument's performance as a function of telescope elevation to inform the final design of the fiber injection system for iLocater.
Existing planet-finding spectrometers are limited by systematic errors that result from their seeing-limited design. Of particular concern is the use of multi-mode fibers (MMFs), which introduce modal noise and accept significant amounts of background radiation from the sky. We present the design of a single-mode fiber-based acquisition camera for a diffraction-limited spectrometer named “iLocater." By using the “extreme" adaptive optics (AO) system of the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT), iLocater will overcome the limitations that prevent Doppler instruments from reaching their full potential, allowing precise radial velocity (RV) measurements of terrestrial planets around nearby bright stars. The instrument presented in this paper, which we refer to as the acquisition camera “demonstration system," will measure on-sky single-mode fiber (SMF) coupling efficiency using one of the 8.4m primaries of the LBT in fall 2015.