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'Brightest ever' laser fired, claims Northrup Grumman

16 Oct 2006

Test demonstration delivers multi-kilowatt output “illuminator” laser. Combines power performance with high beam quality at 5,000 pulses per second.

A new diode-pumped solid-state, next-generation illuminator laser developed by Northrop Grumman met all technical performance requirements recently when tests proved it to be the highest power, brightest laser of its kind ever built, according to the company.

The Strategic Illuminator Laser (SILL) demonstrated “multi-kilowatt” average output power, operating at 5 kHz, with outstanding beam quality for a run time of 5 min. These achievements met all the technology goals of the SILL Phase 2 demonstration program, an effort to develop the next generation of illuminator lasers for air and space applications. The SILL program is funded by the US Missile Defense Agency, Washington, DC.

"In addition to our success with SILL, Northrop Grumman has led the development of complete laser systems," said Alexis Livanos, president of Northrop Grumman's Space Technology sector. "Good beam quality and a long run time are features of our systems."

Illuminator lasers are critical components of all high energy laser weapon systems. They are used in conjunction with tracking sensors to help point the laser weapon at the target. They are also used in conjunction with wavefront sensors to help clean up distortion in the laser beam caused by the atmosphere and other parts of the weapon's optical system so that the beam can be focused to a smaller spot at the target.

The company won the SILL risk reduction, design and demonstration Phase 2 contract in 2004, and in late 2005 it was awarded a Phase 3 contract, which includes the fabrication and test of a brassboard device. The SILL brassboard design shows that it will be significantly smaller and lighter compared with current high-power illuminator systems. It is also designed to withstand environmental temperatures from -50 to 50°C.

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