Molex Develops Optical Bench to Test, Validate Optical Fibers Used in Astronomy Applications

Molex has developed a Polymicro Technologies™ optical bench to test and validate optical fibers used in astronomy applications. The optical bench measures focal ratio degradation (FRD) in specific optical fiber samples to determine if the fibers are appropriate for astronomy applications.

“Multimode optical fiber has revolutionized the way astronomers look at stars and other objects in space by enabling highly stable, remotely mounted, multi-object spectrographs,” said Teodor Tichindelean, global product manager for Polymicro Technologies, Molex. “Optical fibers allow the observation of hundreds of objects in the sky simultaneously by transporting light from a telescope to a spectrograph.”

However, light loss in systems employing multimode optical fibers can be manifested as beam spreading, or FRD. Beam spreading produces resolution loss and inconsistent images in spectrographs. To reduce light losses, instrument designers must quantify FRD and minimize its impact prior to developing key components. The new optical bench performs those measurements.

Existing measurements for optical fiber include real-time geometry (1,000 measurements per second), online tensile strength (100,000 psi), and optical testing (attenuation and numerical aperture). The Polymicro Technologies optical bench custom engineered by Molex adds the FRD measurement method for optical fiber astronomy applications to that list. Previously, astronomy equipment developers had to take their own individual FRD measurements, but the optical bench now allows Molex to accurately measure and verify optical fiber samples.

The Polymicro Technologies unit in Phoenix is in the process of testing “golden standard” samples of optical fiber cables that have already been verified as acceptable for astronomy applications. By comparing the testing results of new fiber optic cables to the golden standard samples from its customers, the optical bench can verify or reject new Polymicro Technologies™ fibers. The samples are being compared and catalogued for future reference.

Over the past 10 years, Polymicro Technologies FBP broad spectrum optical fiber has become the accepted standard for fiber system designers, according to Tichindelean. Polymicro Technologies FBP optical fiber is typically used in astronomy applications.

“Optical fibers that are pretested for FRD performance can reduce the time and cost of developing new spectrographs,” said Tichindelean. “We use the optical bench as a diagnostic tool to identify, quantify and potentially minimize sources of FRD and improve fiber and instrument performance.”

For more information about Polymicro Technologies products, please visit or visit Molex booth 112 at the SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation show held at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre in Edinburgh, United Kingdom June 26-July 1, 2016.

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