Techniques for precision interferometry in space

Fitzsimons, Ewan D. (2010) Techniques for precision interferometry in space. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Gravitational waves are an important prediction of Einstein's General theory of Relativity. Derived as a solution to the Einstein field equations, they are predicted to be produced in systems where there is an asymmetric acceleration of matter, and exist as a time varying quadrupolar distortion in spacetime.

Due to the rich variety of scientifically interesting astrophysical sources predicted to be producing gravitational radiation, there is significant international effort directed towards their detection. A large network of ground based interferometric detectors is in operation, with upgrades to increase sensitivity already in progress. They operate on the principle of measuring the time varying displacement in the interferometer path length an incident gravitational wave will induce. However, the predicted amplitude of gravitational waves requires the measurement to be made over several kilometres with a displacement sensitivity of less than 10^-18m/sqrt(Hz).

Ground based detectors operate in the ~10-10000 Hz region, and are fundamentally limited at the low frequency end by the noisy gravitational environment of the Earth. To enable detection of low frequency sources, LISA - the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna - is a planned mission to place an interferometric gravitational wave detector in space, sensitive to gravitational waves in the 0.1-1000 mHz region. Consisting of a triangular constellation of three spacecraft, LISA will aim to detect gravitational waves by monitoring the fluctuation in the separation between free-falling test masses over a baseline of 5 million kilometres with an accuracy of around 10pm/sqrt(Hz).

To demonstrate that LISA technology, such as the ability to place test masses into a suitably quiet gravitational free-fall, is viable, a precursor mission - LISA Pathfinder - will launch in the next few years. LISA Pathfinder will monitor the relative displacement between two free-falling inertial test masses using an interferometer, with the goal of verifying that the required quality of free-fall is achievable in LISA. This work presented in this thesis relates to the development of interferometry for LISA Pathfinder and LISA, the construction of the LISA Pathfinder flight model interferometer, and initial work on developing the interferometer for LISA.

The interferometers required for LISA and LISA Pathfinder must be constructed to be durable enough to survive launch and stable enough to measure displacements of a few picometres at frequencies down to a few mHz. Further, to help minimise noise from sources such as residual jitter of the test masses, the beams which probe the test masses must be aligned to within ±25 micrometers of the nominal reflection point. Using ultra low expansion substrates like Zerodur, and attaching optical components with hydroxide catalysis bonding offers one solution which can provide the durability and stability required.

To achieve the accuracy of beam positioning, a system which allows measurement of absolute propagation direction of a laser beam was developed. Combined with a coordinate measuring machine, this allows the absolute position of a mm-scale laser beam to be measured with an accuracy of around ±5 micrometers and ±20 microradians. This system can operate in two modes: first as a measurement system allowing measurement of an existing beam; and secondly as a target, where it can be positioned to a desired theoretical (such as the nominal reflection point of a test mass) and a beam can be aligned onto it. Combined with a method of precision adjusting optical components at the sub-micron and microradian level prior to hydroxide catalysis bonding, it enables absolute alignment of ultra-stable interferometers to micron level.

Using these techniques, the flight model interferometer for LISA Pathfinder was successfully constructed to meet the alignment and performance requirements. The control system that will maintain the test masses in near free-fall requires a very accurate measure of the attitude of the test masses. This measurement will be provided by the interferometer using differential wavefront sensing (DWS). The flight model interferometer was calibrated to establish the coupling factors between the DWS read-out and the attitude of the test mass to ensure maximum performance of the control system.

Building upon the experience gained in developing and building the LISA Pathfinder interferometer, a prototype of the LISA optical bench is in development. The LISA interferometer is significantly more complicated than that of LISA Pathfinder. Some of its features include: imaging systems to minimise coupling of beam tilt to displacement noise; a precision beam expander to generate a beam appropriate for the telescope; a redundant fibre injector system, creating two beams collinear to within a few microns and 10-20 microradians; and polarisation optics for beam steering. The development and current state of the design for the prototype optical bench is presented, along with an overview of its features.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: gravitational waves, LISA, LISA Pathfinder, Interferometry, hydroxide-catalysis, bonding, precision construction
Subjects: Q Science > QB Astronomy
Q Science > QC Physics
Colleges/Schools: College of Science and Engineering > School of Physics and Astronomy
Supervisor's Name: Ward, Dr. H.
Date of Award: 2010
Depositing User: Mr Ewan Fitzsimons
Unique ID: glathesis:2010-2313
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 05 Jan 2011
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:53

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