What benefits does the Optics Laboratory deliver?

The Optics Laboratory supports ESA projects throughout their life cycles, testing and verifying optimal performance at component and subsystem level with minimal effort and short turn-around times. It assists ESA teams and European industry - including small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) - with precision optical measurement techniques outside their normal test resources or area of expertise.

It is able to quickly apply its expertise to perform 'emergency fire brigade' investigations on a case-by-case basis, improvising new measuring techniques as needed. For instance the team running the ADM-Aeolus mission – an Earth-observing mission to monitor global wind fields with a doppler lidar – found that optical components of their ALADIN (Atmospheric Laser Doppler Instrument) laser were tilting slightly during vacuum testing, causing the laser to self-extinguish.

This opto-mechanical instability turned out to be caused by outgassing from the glues holding optical components inside their mechanical mount. The Laboratory team used interferometry measurements to trace how the component instability evolved as air was pumped out of their small vacuum chamber. The information gained from this novel procedure helped the two teams arrive at with a solution.

The Laboratory's work in characterising new optical materials underpinned the Herschel and Planck missions, which employed Silicon Carbide and carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) respectively to reduce optical weight while increasing telescope size – Herschel's main mirror has twice the area of the Hubble Space Telescope but only one third its mass.

The Laboratory is performing straylight analysis and associated materials testing for future space telescopes including the NASA-ESA James Webb Space Telescope, the Gaia galactic mapper and the JAXA-ESA Space Far Infared Cosmology and Astrophysics (SPICA) mission. The Laboratory is also set to work on spectrometers destined for ESA's next-decade Sentinel series of Earth-observing spacecraft, having already contributed to the Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment-2 (GOME-2) aboard ESA's polar-orbiting MetOp weather satellite.

Last update: 16 September 2009

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