Abstract

An external flower-shaped occulter flying in formation with a space telescope can theoretically provide sufficient starlight suppression to enable direct imaging of an Earth-like planet. Occulter shapes are scaled to enable experimental validation of their performance at laboratory dimensions. Previous experimental results have shown promising performance but have not realized the full theoretical potential of occulter designs. Here, we develop a two-dimensional diffraction model for optical propagations for occulters incorporating experimental errors. We perform a sensitivity analysis, and comparison with experimental results from a scaled-occulter testbed validates the optical model to the 1010 contrast level. The manufacturing accuracy along the edge of the occulter shape is identified as the limiting factor to achieving the theoretical potential of the occulter design. This hypothesis is experimentally validated using a second occulter mask manufactured with increased edge feature accuracy and resulting in a measured contrast level approaching the 1012 level—a better than one order of magnitude improvement in performance.

© 2016 Optical Society of America

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