Apparatus and method for heterodyne-generated, two-dimensional detector array using a single detector. Synthetic-array heterodyne detection, permits a single-element optical detector to behave as though it were divided into an array of separate heterodyne detector elements. A fifteen-element synthetic array has successfully been experimentally realized on a single-element detector, permitting all of the array elements to be read out continuously and in parallel from one electrical connection. A CO.sub.2 laser and a single-element HgCdTe photodiode are employed. A different heterodyne local oscillator frequency is incident upon the spatially resolvable regions of the detector surface. Thus, different regions are mapped to different heterodyne beat frequencies. One can determine where the photons were incident on the detector surface even though a single electrical connection to the detector is used. This also prevents the destructive interference that occurs when multiple speckles are imaged (similar to spatial diversity), In coherent LIDAR this permits a larger field of view. An acoustooptic modulator generates the local oscillator frequencies and can achieve adequate spatial separation of optical frequencies of the order of a megahertz apart.
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates generally to heterodyne (or coherent) detection and, more particularly, to the use of optical heterodyne detection for transforming a single-element optical detector into a coherent array. The invention was made with government support under Contract No. W-7405-ENG-36 awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy to the Regents of The University of California. The government has certain rights in the invention.