High-power laser manufacturer, Quantel Laser, has been granted a four year, €20 million contract by the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) to produce preamplifier modules for the Laser Mégajoule facility in Bordeaux, France.
The Laser Mégajoule (LMJ) is a key component of CEA's Simulation Programme, which was set up following France’s decision to indefinitely halt nuclear testing in 1996. The programme allows physicists at CEA's Military Applications Division (DAM) to guarantee the reliability, safety and performance of the country's nuclear weapons.
The LMJ consists of 176 laser beams comprising 22 chains and eight beams, each of which will be installed inside a structure with a total volume of 40,000m², as long as the Eiffel Tower and as high as the Arc de Triomphe.
Its purpose is to study, at a very small scale, the behaviour of materials under extreme conditions similar to those reached during the operation of nuclear weapons. The LMJ is designed to deliver, in a few billionths of a second, more than one million joules of light energy to targets measuring a few millimetres in size.
Under terms of the multi-year contract, Quantel will manufacture and test the critical preamplifier modules used in the laser source assembly. The preamplifier modules will increase the energy of the initial pulse from several billionths of a Joule to around one Joule.
Further amplification takes place in the amplifier section and, after beam combination, the total energy delivered to the target is expected to be in excess of one million Joules.
In order to bring the system to full functionality, a total of 90 preamplifier modules are required to equip the 22 laser beam lines. It is anticipated that the CEA will place a second similar size order in the near future in order to fully equip all lines of the Laser Mégajoule.
‘For over 10 years, Quantel has been working in close cooperation with teams from the French Atomic Energy Authority on the design, development and manufacture of this critical technology,’ commented Alain de Salaberry, CEO of Quantel. ‘Despite exceptional technical challenges in design, manufacture and test, we’re thrilled to deliver the demanding performance required for this unique application.’
So far, around 250 industrial partners have contributed to the innovative technology and production methods for making LMJ's components. One such company, Cilas, is providing a total of 60 laser amplifiers, each weighing 19 tonnes. The amplifiers are used to amplify a laser impulse using 180 flash lamps which illuminate 72 laser glass plates laced with neodymium.
As the laser beam is being amplified, it bounces off deformable mirrors located at the bottom of the laser cavity. During this beam reflection, the mirror surface, deformed using actuators located behind the mirror, will correct any laser beam imperfections.
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