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Rutherford Appleton Laboratory case study

Robust low noise QCL driver employed in laser development for space missions

Ice Bloc QCL used to develop robust, low-noise molecular sensing system for space and atmospheric science.

The Laser Spectroscopy Team in the Space Science and Technology Department of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), led by Dr Damien Wiedmann, are developing novel laser spectroscopy systems for real-time molecular sensing. Their experiments employ tunable quantum cascade lasers (QCLs) and have a wide range of applications, from defence and security (e.g. remote detection of explosives) to space and atmospheric science.

Devices for space missions must satisfy stringent requirements, needing to be compact, efficient and highly reliable. An important part of the system is therefore the QCL driver, which provides current and thermal monitoring for the laser.

After experiencing problems with many commercial QCL controllers, the Laser Spectroscopy Team worked with M Squared to develop an enhanced product. The resulting Ice Bloc QCL driver offered many improvements, including lower noise performance (improving the frequency stability of the laser) and better long-term stability. M Squared were also able to offer a customised power supply to meet the demands for highly efficient devices in space.

Ethernet connectivity and web browser-based device control enabled Damien and his team to get the Ice Bloc set up and operational quickly and easily. For tuning the QCL wavelength to make spectroscopic measurements, current and temperature tuning was used, which was easily implemented using the built-in current and set-point temperature ramps in the web interface.

In summary, Ice Bloc QCL enabled scientists at RAL to develop lower noise, more robust laser spectroscopy systems, controlled remotely through a web browser and with the potential for space missions.