Photo: ESA

Lasers are employed in many space missions. They are currently used in altimeters to measure the topography of planets, in an instrument on the Mars rover Curiosity to analyze the chemical composition of Martian soil, for data transmission across tens of thousands kilometres between satellites, and many more applications. In most cases, these are solid state lasers. Many energy conversion steps are involved: Light from the sun is converted to electric energy, the electric energy is used to pump arrays of semiconductor lasers, and the semiconductor lasers finally pump the solid state laser.

The European Space Agency wants to find out whether direct pumping of solid state lasers by light from the sun can be used to construct more efficient or more reliable solid state lasers. We have been awarded a contract to develop suitable laser schemes and to propose space missions that could take advantage of solid state lasers that are directly pumped by concentrated sunlight.

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