Power Output from a Solid Prism Retroreflector Depends on AOI Due to Interference Effects

Power Output from a Solid Prism Retroreflector Depends on AOI Due to Interference Effects

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Does the angle of incidence affect the output beam power from a corner-cube retroreflector?


Reflections cause multiple beam interference at the output of a retroreflector.
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Figure 2: Since the refractive indices of glass and air are different, the beam reflects at the front face. Reflected light can make multiple passes through the retroreflector before being output. Coherent overlapping beams produce interference effects.

The primary beam path through a solid prism retroreflector.
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Figure 1: The beam path through a corner-cube retroreflector includes a reflection from each of the three back faces, in an order determined by the position of the incident beam. The incident beam shown above has a 0° AOI and is displaced from the vertex.

The beam power output by solid prism retroreflectors may oscillate around an average value as the angle of incidence (AOI) varies. This is due to a multiple-beam interference effect that can occur when the coherence length of the light source is at least twice the optical path length through the retroreflector.

When the front face of a solid retroreflector has an anti-reflective coating, oscillation amplitudes for all AOIs are substantially reduced. Hollow metal-coated retroreflectors provide output beams whose power is approximately independent of AOI.

Beam Path 
These corner-cube retroreflectors provide an output beam that travels in a direction parallel and opposite to the incident beam. Figure 1 shows one beam path

The AOI is determined using a reference axis normal to the front face of the retroreflector. This axis passes through the vertex and is equidistant from the three back faces. 

Reflections from the Front Face
As illustrated in Figure 2, light can make multiple passes through a solid prism retroreflector, depending on whether the light reflects from or is transmitted through interfaces between the front face and the surrounding medium.

When a glass retroreflector is surrounded by air, ~96% of the light is in the primary output beam, which makes a single pass through the retroreflector, and ~0.16% is in the beam that completes an additional round trip. In this work, light making additional round trips had negligible intensity.

Conditions for Interference
Since the output of solid prism retroreflectors consists of beams that have travelled different optical path lengths, they will interfere if:

  • The beams overlap, which is more likely when the AOI of the incident beam is near 0° and the output is measured closer to the retroreflector. At larger distances, the beam deviation specified for the retroreflector and the AOI will more widely separate the first- and third-pass beams. 
  • The coherence length of the source is longer than the difference in path length between the primary beam and the overlapping beam that has made more than one pass through the retroreflector.
Oscillations of the power output by solid prism retroreflectors with uncoated and AR-coated front faces as well as a hollow retroreflector, all as a function of small AOI.
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Figure 4: Output power as a function of AOI differed depending on the type of corner-cube retroreflector. Data from measurements, made as described in Figure 3, were normalized to the same scale, and traces were vertically shifted as a visual aid. Oscillation amplitude was strongly suppressed when the front face was AR-coated (PS975-C). Oscillations were not observed for the hollow retroreflector (HRR201-M01)

Oscillations of the power output by a solid prism retroreflector, as a function of small AOI.
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Figure 3: The power output by a TIR solid prism retroreflector (PS975M) was measured as a function of AOI. The incident beam was provided by a DBR1064S 1064 nm laser source, whose coherence length was several meters. The largest-amplitude oscillations resulted around 0° AOI, where the first- and third-pass beams overlapped. The 1/e2 beam diameters did not overlap for AOIs larger than ±1° at a distance of 30 cm from the front face of the retroreflector. 

Corner-Cube Retroreflectors Compared
The variation of output power with small AOI was compared for four different types of corner-cube retroreflectors: a PS975M TIR solid prism retroreflector, a PS975M-M01B backside-gold-coated solid prism retroreflector, a PS975M-C TIR solid prism retroreflector with an antireflective-coated front face, and a HRR201-M01 that has a hollow construction. The input source was a DBR1064S 1064 nm laser diode with a coherence length of several meters, and the power detector was placed 30 cm from the front face of the retroreflectors. The beam size was small enough to ensure that each reflection occurred from a single face.

Figure 3 plots the normalized measurements made for the TIR solid prism retroreflector. As the AOI increased, the centers of the first- and third-pass beams shifted away from one another. At AOIs greater than around ±1°, the beams' 1/e2 diameters no longer overlapped. This resulted in the oscillation amplitude decreasing with AOI. The range of AOIs over which oscillations were significant would increase if the detector were located closer to the front face.

Figure 4 plots the trace from Figure 3, as well as traces measured for the other three retroreflectors, on the same scale but vertically shifted as a visual aid. These results indicate that an antireflective-coated front face suppresses power oscillations in beams output by solid prism retroreflectors. The power output by hollow retroreflectors does not oscillate, since there is no material boundary at the front face.

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Date of Last Edit: July 7, 2020

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