Abstract

We report experiments evaluating the feasibility of quantum-cascade lasers (QCLs) at mid-infrared wavelengths for use as local oscillators (LOs) in a heterodyne receiver. Performance tests with continuous-wave (cw) lasers around 9.6 and 9.2 µm were carried out investigating optical output power, laser linewidth, and tunability. A direct comparison with a CO2 gas laser LO is presented as well. The achieved system sensitivity in a heterodyne spectrometer of only a factor of 2 above the quantum limit together with the measured linewidth of less than 1.5 MHz shows that QCLs are suitable laser sources for heterodyne spectroscopy with sufficient output power to replace gas lasers as LOs even in high-sensitivity astronomical heterodyne receivers. In addition, our experiments show that the tunability of the lasers can be greatly enhanced by use of an external cavity.

© 2005 Optical Society of America

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