7. Signal feedthrough of the fiber combiner
Besides the pump power handling and the pump coupling efficiency of a fiber combiner, it is important for fiber laser and amplifier applications to maintain the optical properties of the signal light propagating through the fiber combiner. In particular, during the fabrication of the fiber component, externally induced mechanical stress and perhaps a marginal fraction of thermal diffusion of the core dopants  can result in a high signal insertion loss in conjunction with a degradation of the signal beam quality. This behavior was expected for large mode area DC fibers with a very low core refractive index (NA ~0.06), and therefore possible beam quality degradations of the signal feedthrough light was investigated (in Section 7.1).
The uninterrupted signal core in the fiber combiner provides the possibility of passing a signal beam through the combiner in forward and backward direction. However, in the case of a backward propagating signal, the pump diodes need sufficient protection against the signal. Thus, in Section 7.2 we investigate the signal to pump isolation of a 4 + 1×1 fiber combiner in a fiber amplifier setup.
7.1 Signal insertion loss and beam quality
In order to determine possible beam quality degradation and a signal insertion loss caused by the signal feedthrough of the combiner, the setup depicted in Fig. 14
Fig. 14 Setup for beam quality measurements, TF: target fiber, PBS: polarization beam splitter.was used. A signal at a wavelength of 1064 nm was launched into the core of a 2.75 m long Ytterbium-doped DC fiber (Nufern YDF-25/250), which is specified with a signal core diameter of 25 µm (NA 0.06) and a pump core diameter of 250 µm (NA 0.46). Thus, the parameters of the passive TF of the combiner were matched to the active fiber. The coiling diameter of the active fiber was 12 cm to maintain near diffraction limited beam quality . The transmitted signal had a power of about 200 mW and was propagating in reverse direction through the fiber combiner. The beam quality measurements were carried out with a Fabry-Perot ring-cavity. With this cavity it was possible to determine the power fraction in higher-order transversal cavity modes with respect to the Gaussian TEM00 mode by scanning the length of the ring-cavity over a free spectral range (FSR). A detailed description of the measuring setup can be found in Ref . Due to the use of a polarization sensitive beam quality measurement, a half- and a quarter-wave retardation plate in conjunction with a polarization beam splitter (PBS) were used. The determined polarization extinction ratio was better than 17 dB after the propagation of the signal through the active fiber and the fiber combiner.
Before the fusion splice between the active fiber and the 4 + 1×1 combiner, the power in higher-order modes of the active fiber was determined. This measurement served as a reference beam quality for the active fiber. The mode scan in Fig. 15(a)
Fig. 15 Normalized transmitted intensity through a premode cleaner as a function of the ring-cavity length in units of a free spectral range for (a) the reference beam and (b) the signal feedthrough beam of a 4 + 1×1 fiber combiner.
shows the logarithmic normalized intensity over a free spectral range for the reference beam with a power in higher-order modes of 3.1%. This results in a fundamental fiber mode power of at least 96.9% for the reference beam. For the signal feedthrough of the fiber combiner, a power in higher-order modes of only 5.1% was found (Fig. 15(b)).
Consequently, the signal feedthrough fiber (0.7 m long TF) only led to an increase in power in higher-order transversal modes of maximal 2%. Furthermore, it must be considered that additional power transfer to higher-order transversal modes can also be caused by the fusion splice between the active DC fiber and the TF. Hence, good preservation of the signal beam quality, in conjunction with the low signal insertion loss of less than 3%, provides an excellent high power fiber component for monolithic fiber laser and amplifier systems.