New laser testing system brings NIF back to the future

NIF has reached back to its past to advance toward its future.

The facility has recommissioned the Precision Diagnostic System (PDS) as a more comprehensive version of the PDS that was decommissioned after the initial design of NIF’s laser system was completed in 2007.

The new PDS has an advanced array of diagnostic tools that help researchers experiment with potential methods to increase laser performance without risking the main systems.

“We can test the limits of the power and the energy that we can operate this laser at,” said Steven Yang, leader of the BeamLine Integrated Performance (BLIP) group and co-leader of the Laser-Alignment System Engineering (LASE) group. “It’s uniquely suited for trying out different things that push the envelope of the laser.”

PDS System Engineering Manager Simon Cohen, the integrated project team (IPT) lead, said the PDS can “acquire snapshots of the laser near-field image in the nanosecond time regime that provide significant opportunities to analyze the laser as never before.”

NIF is the world’s largest and most energetic laser system, with 192 laser beams precisely guided and focused onto a target the size of a pencil eraser for a few billionths of a second.

Numerous diagnostics are available to characterize the performance of each beam long before it reaches the target inside NIF’s Target Chamber. Laser physicists, however, wanted to better understand how the beams were performing at a critical juncture inside the Target Chamber after frequency conversion crystals changed their wavelength from 1-omega (infrared) to 3-omega (ultraviolet).