Wave-front sensing and deformable mirror control algorithms in adaptive optics systems are designed on the premise that a continuous phase function exists in the telescope pupil that can be conjugated with a deformable mirror for the purpose of projecting a laser beam. However, recent studies of coherent wave propagation through turbulence have shown that under conditions where scintillation is not negligible, a truly continuous phase function does not in general exist as a result of the presence of branch points in the complex optical field. Because of branch points and the associated branch cuts, least-squares wave-front reconstruction paradigms can have large errors. We study the improvement that can be obtained by implementing wave-front reconstructors that can sense the presence of branch points and reconstruct a discontinuous phase function in the context of a laser beam projection system. This study was conducted by fitting a finite-degree-of-freedom deformable mirror to branch-point and least-squares reconstructions of the phase of the beacon field, propagating the corrected field to the beacon plane, and evaluating performance in the beacon plane. We find that the value of implementing branch-point reconstructors with a finite-degree-of-freedom deformable mirror is significant for optical paths that cause saturated log-amplitude fluctuations.
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