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Letter

OPTICAL REVIEW Vol. 12, No. 6 (2005) 445447

Limits of Coherent Addition of Lasers: Simple Estimate


Dmitrii K OUZNETSOV, Jean-Francois B ISSON, Akira SHIRAKAWA and Ken-ichi U EDA
Institute for Laser Science, University of Electro Communications, 1-5-1 Chofugaoka, Chofu, Tokyo 182-8585, Japan
(Received January 14, 2005; Accepted July 7, 2005)
The coherent combining of single mode lasers using coupled cavities is considered. A simple analytical estimate of the
number of lasers that can be eciently combined in such a way is suggested. Such an estimate agrees with simulations
and experiments reported recently. # 2005 The Optical Society of Japan
Key words: coherent beam addition, laser addition, coherent beam combining, power scaling

The interest in coherent beam combining13) has revived


in the context of powerful ber lasers (see refs. 46 and
references therein). The common cavity with single-mode
coupling provides both spectral renement of the generated
light and the scaling of the output power. Figure 1 shows
one possible combining scheme,5) however, the sequence of
combining may be dierent; the principal limitations of such
a scheme do not depend on the order of coupling.
The number of lasers that can be coherently combined in
such a way is limited. In the coherent addition of lasers, the
system generates at frequencies which are common for all
the lasers combined. Each additional laser reduces the
number of spectral lines at which the system can eciently
oscillate. When the generation becomes single-mode, the
ability to add lasers coherently is exhausted. Subsequent
increase in number of lasers will cause signicant loss of
eciency. The increase of bandwidth by an order of
magnitude allows the addition of few more lasers. A number
of approaches47) give similar estimates of combining
eciency as function of number N of combined lasers for
various lasers, couplers, reectivities and regimes of
saturation of active elements. Roughly, up to eight typical
ber lasers can be combined, and it is interesting to
understand the origin of such result. This number does not
depend much on the properties of the combined lasers. The
stability of the maximal number of partial lasers indicates
that only a few parameters have to be taken into account to
estimate this number.
In this letter we suggest a simplied description of the
phenomenon of the coherent addition of lasers by singlemode coupling. The qualitative assumptions lead to the
simple estimate of the maximal number of lasers which can
be combined in such a way to obtain a given eciency.
Assume a certain number N of similar lasers are coupled
to the same single-mode feedback. Formally, the coupler of
N inputs must also have N outputs; we assume, the losses at
other outputs are so high that they have no need to be taken
into account. A detailed description of the system may
include the model for individual lasers and the feedback
coecient, but here we describe the simplest model.
Consider N lasers, let them have optical round-trip length
on the order of L. For ber lasers, such L can be estimated as


Fig. 1. Example of laser combining by Shirakawa.5)

twice the optical length of the bers. The index of refraction


is typically on the order of 1.5; so, L is approximately triple
the length of the partial ber laser.
We do not take into account the spatial hole burning
(SHB)810) and do not consider the role of the shape of the
spectral line of gain. Careful analysis of the eects of SHB
on the eciency of the coherent laser addition can be based
on simulations by Siegman;7) such analysis requires specic
data about the lasers combined and falls out of the scope of
this paper.
Let each laser operate around wavenumber K, with
bandwidth k. As the eciency of combining does not
depend on the order of coupling of partial lasers, we may
assume that they are combined one by one. Then, each
additional nth laser chooses some frequencies of operation
among the frequencies of operation of the system of n  1
lasers.
If we have only one laser (N 1), we can expect the
generation at a set of frequencies, and have on the order of
kL spectral lines at the output. Let us add one additional
laser. Let the output coupler discriminate the modes with
high losses; and let the modes with high coupling losses
1   be below the threshold. Then, approximately, the
1  th part of the signal power may go to other outputs of
the coupler(s) and presumably cannot be used for the singlemode operation. This portion of power is lost. Parameter 
can thus be interpreted as combining eciency.
Assume high eciency, let 1    1. The laser can still
emit many spectral lines, but now the number of longitudinal
modes is limited by the condition of occasional synchronism. In Fig. 2 we show two sets of spectral lines of two
independent lasers. However, as they are coupled together,
they have to oscillate at frequencies close enough to some of

E-mail address: dima@ils.uec.ac.jp


445

446

OPTICAL REVIEW Vol. 12, No. 6 (2005)

D. K OUZNETSOV et al.

/%
100
Fig. 2. Occasional coincidence of spectral lines of two lasers.

90

the spectral lines of each laser. At each round-trip, the partial


mode of an added laser should rotate by the angle 

80

 jKL1  L2 2mj

for some appropriate integer m. At the coupling, the (1 


cos )th part of the power is lost.
The number Mn of spectral lines (longitudinal modes) of n
coupled lasers can be estimated as follows. For one laser, we
have
M1 kL

modes. The coherent addition of lasers reduces the spectral


width of generation. The eciency of addition of a new laser
can be estimated as cos where  is the relative phase the
eld of the laser has to rotate at each round-trip in order to
be in-phase with other lasers. Many modes are far out of
phase, and we should count those which are still in phase.
For two lasers, we estimate
Z
M1 
M2
#cos   d
2 
p
M1
21  

arccos  M1
;


where # is the unit step function. The probability that each
mode of the system is in-phase with an added laser can be
estimated as
p
21  
:
3
p

For the addition of n lasers, n  1 times we should apply the
factor p. This gives an estimate
Mn Mn1 p M1 pn1

for the number of longitudinal modes of the combination of


n lasers. We would like to have at least one mode with high
eciency; this gives an equation for the maximal number N
of lasers which can be combined with given eciency :
MN 1. Using eqs. (4) and (2) we re-write this equation as
kLpN1 1:

Taking the logarithm of eq. (5) and using eq. (3), we obtain
N1

lnkL
p :
ln= 21  

Equation (6) estimates the maximal number N of lasers


which can be combined with eciency .
Let us compare our estimate with numerical simulations.
Usually, the simulations of the addition of lasers provide an
estimate of the eciency versus the number of lasers
combined. Therefore, we re-write eq. (6) as an estimate of
the eciency  of combinig a given number N of lasers:

Fig. 3. Combining eciency  of of lasers by Shirakawa et al.5)


versus number N of lasers combined. Optical round-trip length L
30 m; operating wavelength  1557 nm; simulations with spectral linewidth  10 nm (circles) and  0:6 nm (dots) are
shown. Corresponding values of kL are 778  103 and 46  103 .
Solid curves represent the corresponding estimates with eq. (7).



2
lnkL
:
exp 2
1
N1
2

In a short letter, we cannot review dierent models used


in the simulations of the coherent addition of lasers. The
simplicity of eq. (7) makes it easy to plot this estimate on
any graph representing the results of numerical simulations
and/or real experiments. For example, here we compare our
estimate to the analysis by Shirakawa et al.5) For the 10-m
ber lasers combined, at the refractive index 1.5, the roundtrip optical length can be estimated as L 2  10 m  1:5
30 m. At wavelength  1557 nm, two values of the
spectral width  10 nm and  0:6 nm were considered. (The Bragg reectors were used to reduce the spectral
bandwidth.) The bandwidth k can be estimated as k
2= 2 which gives values k 260 and 16 cm1 , respectively. The simulated values of the resulting eciency are
plotted in Fig. 3 with circles (case  10 nm) and dots
(case  0:6 nm). The corresponding estimates with
eq. (7) are plotted with thin and thick curves, respectively.
About 8 lasers can be eciently combined in such a way.
The increase of number N of lasers that can be combined at a
given eciency requires an exponential growth of their
length. Such an estimate agrees with previous results.47)
Two examples of the drop in the eciency with increase of
number of lasers combined are shown in Fig. 3. The absolute
deviation of estimate (7) from the simulation data does not
exceed 3%, which is surprising, taking into account the
qualitative character of our deduction and the simplicity of
the resulting estimates (6) and (7).
Consider the limits of our model. We have ignored losses
in partial lasers, as well as eects of saturation of gain and
SHB. These eects should slightly reduce the eciency
when the number of longitudinal modes of the system
becomes small.
We assume that each added laser chooses the frequencies
among those the rest of the system does oscillate, and ignore
the possibility of the mutual adjustment of frequencies. The

OPTICAL REVIEW Vol. 12, No. 6 (2005)

mutual adjustment of laser frequencies may slightly increase


the eciency compared to our estimate and partially
compensate the eect of SHB mentioned above. We also
have ignored all the background losses at the coupling,
which should slightly reduce the eciency of coupling
compared to our idealized estimate.
Our model leads to estimate (7) of the eciency of
coherent addition as a function of number N of combined
lasers, in terms of the optical round-trip length L of lasers
and their bandwidth. Note that our estimate depends only on
the product kL; we have only one parameter in our model.
We consider this to be the main advantage of our approach.
However, for the analysis of all other eects (reectivity
of the output coupler, mechanism of saturation, shape of the
spectral line of gain and that of the Bragg reectors, SHB)
the more detailed approach7) should be used, but the
resulting estimate is not expected to have as simple a
representation as estimates (6) and (7).
Let us summaarize our results. The assumptions of
combining of lasers one by one and adjusting of the
frequencies of each new laser to some of the frequencies of
the rest of the system leads to the simple estimate (6) of
number of lasers that can be eciently combined. Only one
parameter (product kL) is used to characterize the partial
lasers.
The estimate (6) can be re-written as the estimate (7) of
the eciency of coherent addition of N lasers. Such an
estimate shows very good agreement with simulations.5) For
the cases considered, the absolute deviation does not exceed
3%, see Fig. 3.
According to our estimate, the self-organized coherent
ber arrays5,11) reported recently work close to the limit of
the coherent laser addition. Indeed, in the gures presented
at CLEO-2005,11) the saturation of the coherent fraction of
the output power is seen, when the number of bres exceeds
8. In typical case, about eight lasers can be eciently
combined in such a way. The increase of the bandwidth and/
or length of lasers orders of magnitude allows addition of
only a few more lasers at a given eciency.
An additional ability of the coherent combining of lasers
appears if we vary the mutual optical lengths of the partial
lasers. Then, the optimal conditions for the generation may
take place at sporadic moments of time when the lasers

D. K OUZNETSOV et al.

447

happen to be synchronized. This eect can be used for the


generation of pulses; in particular, of random pulses. This
synchronization allows adding of a few more lasers to a
system while retaining the high eciency. Such a system is
analogous to the continuous-wave random laser (see ref. 12
and references therein).
The subsequent increase of the amount of combined lasers
with passive synchronization (Fig. 1) implies exponential
growth of their bandwidth k and/or their lengths. The
articial adjustment of at least one resonant frequency of
many partial lasers to some common frequency standard
may be a perspective way of the power scaling of laser
systems.
Acknowledgments
This work was supported by the 21st Century COE program of
the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport, Science and Technology
of Japan. We are grateful to colleagues from the Institute for Laser
Science for stimulating discussions.
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