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Continuum lands $4.8M Apollon laser order

14 Mar 2012

400 Joule amplifier section to feature in giant 10 petawatt system now under development in France.

High-energy laser manufacturer Continuum Electro-Optics, part of the GSI Group of companies, has won a $4.8 million contract with the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) to supply a key part for the forthcoming Apollon laser.

Continuum will provide a 400 J amplifier section for the giant system, which is expected to become the world’s first 10 petawatt femtosecond Ti:sapphire laser once it is completed. Apollon is also seen as something of a prototype for the even more powerful set of Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) projects planned for eastern Europe.

The company won the contract after a four-year program to develop a high-energy laser pump module with a much faster repetition rate than is possible with more conventional technology based on glass – for example the US National Ignition Facility (NIF) laser uses glass amplifiers.

Team effort
Continuum president Laurence Kramer said of the award, which follows a joint effort with the University of Rochester’s Laboratory of Laser Energetics and Austin-based National Energetics: “This was a team effort involving the best of cooperation between industry, government labs and academic institutions.”

Under development at the Institut de la Lumiere, Apollon will be a single-beam laser with a pulse duration of 10-15 fs, and should raise the bar for the most powerful lasers ever built from the current level of around 1 PW to ten times that.

Four different ELI projects are planned, all of which are at an early stage of development and subject to various funding approvals, but the fourth and final laser should ultimately raise the power bar by another order of magnitude and provide a roadmap to exawatt (1018) levels.

The front-end of the Apollon laser comprises an 80 µJ Ti:sapphire source producing 30 fs pulses at a wavelength of round 800 nm. Spectral broadening allows that pulse duration to be shortened to 10 fs, before the beam is combined with the output from a high-repetition-rate Yb:KGW thin-disk laser and enters a high-energy Ti:sapphire amplifier section.

Other commercial partners involved in the project have included the ultrafast laser specialist Amplitude Systèmes, as well as Quantel, Imagine Optic, Jobin Yvon and Thales, all based in France.

Santa Clara-based Continuum specializes in high-energy lasers for both scientific and industrial applications. It is part of the GSI group of photonics companies that emerged from bankruptcy proceedings in 2010.

Having successfully re-financed a mountain of debt, GSI is currently in the process of rationalizing its business, which includes other well-known photonics industry brands such as Cambridge Technology, JK Lasers and Synrad. The group will announce its latest financial results this week, and possibly reveal more details of a plan to close 12 of its facilities in a bid to save $5 million in annual costs.

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