Photonics for Space Applications

Coherent supports space-based applications with a broad range of components that operate successfully in an environment when there’s no chance for a second chance. 

August 23, 2021 by Coherent

Laser Photonics for Space Applications

Not because it is easy, but because it is hard

In September 1962, President John F. Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.” 

Today, humankind’s presence in space represents a mix of easy and hard. Satellite launches — over a thousand a year — have become “easy” or at least routine. Partly, this is because technological advances have made satellites more compact, durable, and lightweight. Manned orbits, interplanetary landings, and flybys still represent the most challenging engineering endeavors in which human beings engage and captivate the public’s imagination, such as the current talk about landing on Mars. Coherent supports all these aspects of space operation and exploration with a range of innovative technologies that have proven themselves in the harsh space environment in which continual operation is required.

I can see clearly now

Some of our most significant work for space-based applications is undertaken at the Coherent Tinsley Integrated Optics Systems (TIOS) division, which is a premier producer of precision aspheric optics and space-qualified coatings. Coherent rose to prominence in 1993 (then as Tinsley Laboratories) when we supplied the COSTAR optical system used to correct the flawed shape of the Hubble Space Telescope primary mirror. 

But Coherent is most renowned for its large-format optics. Most recently, we fabricated, polished, and coated the mirrors for the James Webb Space Telescope. (Look for one on the trade show floor!) Currently, we're making 231 of the 492 required primary mirror segments for the Thirty Meter Telescope. Plus, this division routinely fabricates high-performance, lightweight aspheres, and free forms for satellite imagers. 

A part of your success 

Coherent produces an extensive range of other active and passive components for space-based applications. We support satellite communication systems with space-qualified diode laser sources, and with both passive and active optical fibers. We’ve developed expertise in radiation-hardened and heat resistant fibers and Coherent components of this type have even landed on Mars.

Another core competency at Coherent is the production of specialty optical fibers and wound coils for interferometric fiber-optic gyros (IFOGs). These reliable, high-performance components are at the heart of inertial navigation systems for launch vehicles and space inertial reference units used in satellites. 

Coherent is also a major manufacturer of laser optics and crystals. The latter include laser gain crystals, complete, space-qualified gain assemblies, and non-linear crystals for laser frequency multiplication. 

Make space for Coherent

Human activity in space impacts our daily lives, enabling everything from telecommunications, the Global Positioning System, and up-to-date weather information to vital defense intelligence. It’s given us a direct view of other worlds in our own solar system and provided spectacular images and valuable scientific data for objects literally at the edge of the universe. 

And through it all, Coherent has been part of this exciting journey. Coherent has a long history as a supplier of reliable, proven solutions for space applications. And we will continue to devote the best of our energies and skills to empowering some of the most bold and imaginative projects that people dare to undertake.

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