Abstract

We describe the design and performance of large-aperture (>30 cm × 30 cm) optical switches that have demonstrated, for the first time to our knowledge, active switching of a high-energy (>5 kJ) optical pulse in an inertial-confinement fusion laser. These optical switches, which consist of a plasma-electrode Pockels cell (PEPC) and a passive polarizer, permit the design of efficient, multipass laser amplifiers. In a PEPC, plasma discharges on the faces of a thin (1-cm) electro-optic crystal (KDP or KD*P) act as highly conductive and transparent electrodes. These plasma electrodes facilitate rapid (<100 ns) and uniform charging of the crystal to the half-wave voltage and discharging back to 0 V. We discuss the operating principles, design, optical performance, and technical issues of a 32 cm × 32 cm prototype PEPC with both KDP and KD*P crystals, and a 37 cm × 37 cm PEPC with a KDP crystal for the Beamlet laser. This PEPC recently switched a 6-kJ, 3-ns pulse in a four-pass cavity.

© 1995 Optical Society of America

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