Guide Star Alliance to receive OSA award for laser guide star

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The Optical Society (OSA) has announced that the Guide Star Alliance, a collaboration between Toptica Photonics, MPB Communications (MPBC) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), has been selected to receive the 2017 Paul F Forman Team Engineering Excellence Award. The award will be presented on 18 September during ‘Frontiers in Optics and Laser Science (FiO + LS)’ in Washington DC, USA. Toptica’s Wilhelm Kaenders and MPBC’s Wallace Clements and Daoping Wei will accept the award on behalf of the team.

The award recognises the development of the SodiumStar guide star laser, which is now recognised as a quasi-standard for the next generation of earth-based telescopes. (Credit: ESO)

The Guide Star Alliance is responsible for the development of a high-power CW tuneable guide star laser for adaptive optics systems called ‘SodiumStar’, which creates an artificial guide star that serves to measure and remove image blurring due to the earth’s atmosphere in astronomy. The system has been optimised to provide efficient power conversion, wavelength stability, high beam quality and high photon return. Its Raman fibre amplifier technology also allows the scaling of single-frequency output power to high levels while preserving the beam quality.

The device will also leverage ground-based approaches to the tracking and remedying of space debris using lasers, in addition to ground-to-satellite laser communications.

After seven years of development, the sodium laser system is now recognised as a quasi-standard for the next generation of earth-based telescopes, such as ESO's European Extremely Large Telescope, and has been described as ‘the greatest achievement in astronomic instrumentation of the last ten years,’ by Maxime Boccas, head of maintenance, support and engineering at ESO. Last year the technology was also recognised with an innovation award of the Berthold Leibinger Foundation.

‘I have been highly impressed by the outstanding professionalism and expertise of the Toptica/MPBC team,’ added Corinne Boyer, adaptive optics group leader of the Thirty Meter Telescope. ‘The result is a “first class” sodium laser now available for the entire adaptive optics community.’

Adaptive optics have also recently been responsible for doubling the contrast of ESO's Very Large Telescope on the Cerro Paranal mountain in Chile.

The Paul F Forman Team Engineering Excellence Award is ran by OSA and recognises technical achievements such as product engineering, process, software and patent development, as well as contributions to society such as engineering education, publication and management, and furthering public appreciation of optical engineering. The award is named in remembrance of Paul F Forman, who, among many other accomplishments, raised the visibility of optical engineering.

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