Retro-modulators and fast beam steering for free-space optical communications
Free-space optical (FSO) communications is a means of secure, high bandwidth communication through the use of a modulated laser beam in free-space as the information medium. The chaotic nature of the atmosphere and the motion of the communication nodes make laser alignment a crucial concern. The employment of retro-reflecting modulators makes the bidirectional quality of a communication link into a one sided alignment problem. While there are existing retro-reflecting modulators, their trade-offs create a lack of abilities (such as aperture size, angular range, high modulation speeds, economic viability) which do not fulfill the requirements for certain applications. Also, the beam must be directed towards the intended receiver. Form mobile or scintillated communication links, beam direction must be adaptable in real time. Once again, this area suffers from trade-offs where beamsteering speed is often limited. Research used to mitigate the trade-offs and adapt the devices into viable options for a wider range of applications is explored in this dissertation. Two forms of retro- modulators were explored; a MEMS deformable mirror retro- modulator and a solid silicon retro-modulator that modulated the light by frustrated total internal reflection (FTIR). The MEMS version offered a high speed, scalable, wavelength/angle insensitive retro-modulator which can be massed produced at low cost, while the solid retro-modulator offered a large field of view with low cost as well. Both modulator's design, simulated performances, fabrication and experimental characterization are described in this dissertation. An ultra-fast beamscanner was also designed using 2- dimensional dispersion. By using wavelength switching for directional control, a beamscanner was developed that could switch light faster than pre-existing beamscanners while the beams characteristics (most importantly its aperture) could be freely adjusted by the independent optics. This beamscanner was preceded by our work on a large channel wavelength demultiplexer which combined two orthogonally oriented wavelength demultiplexers. This created a 2-dimensional array of spots in free-space. The light was directed be a collimating lens into a specific direction based on its wavelength. The performance of this beamscanner was simulated by modeling the dispersive properties of the components.