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Integrated Optics for Nulling Interferometry in the Thermal Infrared: Progress and Recent Achievements

M Barillot, E Barthelemy, L Bastard, J E Broquin, G J Hawkins, V Kirschner, S Ménard, G Parent, C Poinsot, A Pradel, C Vigreux, S Zhang, X Zhang

Proc. ESA International Conference on Space Optics (ICSO2010), Session 5b: Stellar Cancellation, Greece (2010)


The search for Earth-like exoplanets, orbiting in the habitable zone of stars other than our Sun and showing biological activity, is one of the most exciting and challenging quests of the present time. Nulling interferometry from space, in the thermal infrared, appears as a promising candidate technique for the task of directly observing extra-solar planets. It has been studied for about 10 years by ESA and NASA in the framework of the Darwin and TPF-I missions respectively.

Nevertheless, nulling interferometry in the thermal infrared remains a technological challenge at several levels. Among them, the development of the "modal filter" function is mandatory for the filtering of the wavefronts in adequacy with the objective of rejecting the central star flux to an efficiency of about 105. Modal filtering takes benefit of the capability of single-mode waveguides to transmit a single amplitude function, to eliminate virtually any perturbation of the interfering wavefronts, thus making very high rejection ratios possible.

The modal filter may either be based on single-mode Integrated Optics (IO) and/or Fiber Optics. In this paper, we focus on IO, and more specifically on the progress of the on-going "Integrated Optics" activity of the European Space Agency.