Development of a new high power seed laser at 1651 nm will push the performance of LIDAR systems for methane detection to levels not currently possible, and it will allow for the deployment of significantly longer range systems with higher precision measurements of methane concentration and distribution in the Earth's atmosphere. This laser technology to be developed will also potentially provide new capabilities for measurements of other atmospheric constituents and the surface topography of the Earth and other planetary bodies anticipated for numerous NASA mission programs. A significant increase in laser seed power will lead to dramatic enhancements in the stability of operation for methane detection laser transmitters with consequent improvements in overall LIDAR system reliability. Moreover, the wide tuning range and higher efficiency of the proposed seed source can potentially replace several seed lasers that must be used at present for covering a wide spectral range. This simplification of the seed source will be important for missions in which size, weight, and power considerations are paramount. This laser will serve as an ideal source for LIDAR systems in the wavelength range near 1.65 μm and for active remote sensing optical instruments in general.
There are a number of potential non-NASA commercial applications that will benefit from the development of a high-power tunable laser as proposed for this program. The detection of methane and other hydrocarbon gases is of critical importance in the energy industry, and laser sources developed for NASA systems will have direct relevance for related commercial requirements. As with NASA remote sensing applications, there are commercial applications for improved high power lasers in various types of lidar systems for measuring atmospheric properties such as wind and weather patterns, air pollution, and general trace gas analysis. High power laser sources are key elements of all range-finding and ladar systems and critically impact end system performance. The development of the proposed laser technology will serve broad applications in the bio-medical arena, with examples such as nerve and fertility stimulation. A wide portfolio of laser technologies are used for material treatment and processing. Most high power fiber lasers use seed lasers, and the seed laser proposed for development in this program will provide expanded process capability by increasing the performance of existing systems utilizing high power fiber lasers.