The first mobile terawatt laser in the world for atmospheric studies

An international collaboration

Teramobile is an international project initiated jointly by a French-German collaboration of CNRS (France) and DFG (Germany). It is now funded by ANR and implies five research institutes in Berlin, Dresden, Lyon, Palaiseau and Geneva.
The project aims at investigating nonlinear propagation of femtosecond-terawatt laser pulses over long distances in the atmosphere, and their applications to atmospheric research. This includes Lidar remote sensing of atmospheric pollutants as well as lightning protection and triggering by a mobile Terawatt laser system.

The Teramobile system: A unique tool

The Teramobile system is the first mobile laser yielding 5 terawatts (TW) and 100 fs (10-13 s) pulses, with 350 mJ pulse energy at 10 Hz repetition rate. It concentrates the state-of-the-art laser technology in a 20’ standard freight container, allowing field measurement campaigns.
The laser system itself (Figure 1) has been built by Thales Laser (Palaiseau, France), on a special compact design defined in common. The mobile laboratory (Figures 2) was concieved with Impres (Brehmen, Germany).

Figure 1. Teramobile laser.

Teramobile sketch The Teramobile laboratory

Figure 2. Teramobile mobile laboratory

Nonlinear propagation of laser pulses

High power (TW) ultrashort laser pulses (100 fs or less) propagating in transparent media induce a change to the refractive index of air: this is the Kerr effect, which has a focusing-effect. This effect is balanced by diffraction caused by the plasma created by the high-intensity pulse (see Figure 3). This leads to a dynamic equilibrium, and hence to self-guided filaments (Figure 4).

Figure 3. Principle of self-guiding (click on the image for a higher-quality PDF version of the figure)

Filament in the sky

Figure 4. Photograph of a self-guided filament induced in air by a high-power, infrared (800 nm) laser pulse

In the filaments, nonlinear self-action of the laser pulse leads to strong evolutions of its spatial (self focusing, self guiding, self-reflection), spectral (four wave mixing, self phase modulation) as well as temporal (self-steepening, pulse splitting) characteristics. Extensive work has been dedicated to the characterization of such processes, from both the experimental and theoretical points of view, on both short scales and at long distances. For example, we have shown that
filamentation generatesbroadband « white  light » continuum (230 nm-4 µm). This « white-light laser » covers the absorption band of many atmospheric pollutants
filaments can survive their propagation through hostile conditions (rain, haze, turbulent atmospheres)

Please refer to the publications section for more details.

Lidar application

Our fs-TW laser used as a « white-light laser » allows simultaneous remote sensing of multiple pollutants, using the multispectral Lidar technique (Figure 5). A white-light signal was observed up to 18 km distance (Figure 6)
We have used these properties to characterize a urban ozone pollution episode, measuring both ozone and aerosols. We also performed remote detection of simulants of biological aerosols using two-photon excited fluorescence (Figure 7).

Prniciple of Lidar   Priniciple of non-linear Lidar

Figure 5. Principle of Lidar and white-light Lidar. Light pulses are emitted in the atmosphere, where they are attenuated and backscattered. The backscattered signal as a function of time, hence of distance, is collected on a telescope, and permits to retrieve information about the components present in the atmosphere. In the case of white-light Lidar, the signal is recorded at several wavelengths, allowing measurements with both spectral and spatial resolution.

Figure 6. White-light backscattering up to 18 km distance

Figure 7. Remote detection of biological aerosols. The tube in the center of the picture is an open cloud chamber generating the bioaerosol simulant The laser beam is arriving from the left.

Lightning application

Since the self-guided laser pulse ionizes the air on its path, the filaments are conducting. The filaments are therefore virtual wires that could be used for lightning triggering or guiding in order to protect sensitive spots such as power plants or airports.
The Teramobile laser indeed permitted us to trigger and guide high-voltage (1 MV) discharges along filamentation in air, reducing the breakdown voltage by 30 %.


Figure 9. High-voltage lightning : without laser guiding (left), with laser guiding (right)


The Teramobile project has been launched jointly by CNRS (France) and DFG (Germany). It is currently also funded by ANR.
CNRS - Centre national de la recherche scientifique DFG - Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft ANR


Last update 18/03/2008
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