New partnership announced at Photonics West to develop powerful laser system

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On 4 February at Photonics West in San Francisco, USA, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) announced that Austrian company Femtolasers will supply a front-end source for the High Repetition Rate Advanced Petawatt Laser system (HAPLS) that is being constructed as part of the European Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) project. For this project, major laser research facilities are being built accross Europe to house some of the world's most powerful lasers for use by the scientific community.

HAPLS project manager Dr Constantin Haefner and Femtolasers president Dr Andreas Stingl described key aspects of the partnership and provided an overview of the HAPLS at the SPIE Photonics West conference.

In September 2013, the LLNL, a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) located in California, USA, was awarded more than $45 million to develop and deliver a state-of-the-art laser system for one of the ELI Beamlines facilities currently under construction near Prague in the Czech Republic. 

The design goal for the HAPLS calls for peak power greater than one petawatt at a repetition rate of 10 Hertz, with each pulse lasting less than 30 femtoseconds. HAPLS combines semiconductor diode laser technology with advanced optics, integrated control systems, and techniques for managing the production of ultra-short pulses of light delivered at a repetition rate that is suited for the various applications planned for study at the facility.

In order to achieve this, the HAPLS laser requires a laser 'front-end' source to generate the ultrafast pulse at high stability with ultra-low noise and robust operation.  

Following an international competitive tender, Femtolasers was selected by LLNL and the ELI-Beamlines team as fully meeting the technical requirements and its ability to meet the strict timescales required for construction of the ELI-Beamlines facility.

The front-end consists of an ultrashort pulse seed oscillator (integral element Pro 500), a first stage multipass amplifier (Femtopower compact Pro), a temporal pulse cleaning stage based on cross-wave polarisation, a stretcher and pulse width controller system from LLNL, a spectral amplitude and phase shaper, and a booster amplification stage (Femtopower V). This system is due to be delivered to LLNL by August to provide performance data in support of the HAPLS laser system. 

'The Femtolaser system combines technologies from across Europe and around the world to meet the exacting specifications of the ELI-Beamlines facility. It relies on a scheme referred to as “double-chirped pulse amplification,” enabling high signal to noise in the output pulses which will seed HAPLS,' said Professor Wolfgang Sandner, director general of the ELI-Delivery Consortium International Association (AIBSL).

The ELI-Beamlines facility represents an investment of nearly 7 billion Czech crowns (approximately $350 million) on behalf of the European Union and Czech Republic government. It forms part of a European plan to build a new generation of large research facilities selected by the European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), with the aim to host some of the most intense lasers world-wide, develop new interdisciplinary research opportunities with the light and secondary radiation derived from the lasers, and make them available to an international scientific user community.

'ELI will become the first international laser research facility, much like a ‘CERN for laser research,’  hosting some of the world's most powerful lasers enabling a new era of unique research opportunities for users from all countries,' said Sandner. 'ELI is proud to find support for these ambitious goals from partners in international research and industry, such as LLNL and Femtolasers.'

Researchers from LLNL's NIF & Photon Science Directorate in California will work with scientists from the Czech Institute of Physics to design, develop, assemble and test the laser system at LLNL. After completion of qualification testing, the HAPLS will be transported to the ELI Beamlines facility in 2016, where it will be commissioned for use by the international scientific community.