The objective of an astronomical adaptive optics control system is to minimize the residual wave-front error remaining on the science-object wave fronts after being compensated for atmospheric turbulence and telescope aberrations. Minimizing the mean square wave-front residual maximizes the Strehl ratio and the encircled energy in pointlike images and maximizes the contrast and resolution of extended images. We prove the separation principle of optimal control for application to adaptive optics so as to minimize the mean square wave-front residual. This shows that the residual wave-front error attributable to the control system can be decomposed into three independent terms that can be treated separately in design. The first term depends on the geometry of the wave-front sensor(s), the second term depends on the geometry of the deformable mirror(s), and the third term is a stochastic term that depends on the signal-to-noise ratio. The geometric view comes from understanding that the underlying quantity of interest, the wave-front phase surface, is really an infinite-dimensional vector within a Hilbert space and that this vector space is projected into subspaces we can control and measure by the deformable mirrors and wave-front sensors, respectively. When the control and estimation algorithms are optimal, the residual wave front is in a subspace that is the union of subspaces orthogonal to both of these projections. The method is general in that it applies both to conventional (on-axis, ground-layer conjugate) adaptive optics architectures and to more complicated multi-guide-star- and multiconjugate-layer architectures envisaged for future giant telescopes. We illustrate the approach by using a simple example that has been worked out previously [J. Opt. Soc. Am. A 73, 1171 (1983) ] for a single-conjugate, static atmosphere case and follow up with a discussion of how it is extendable to general adaptive optics architectures.
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