Indexed on: 21 Jun '01Published on: 21 Jun '01Published in: Physical review. E, Statistical, nonlinear, and soft matter physics
To achieve multi-GeV electron energies in the laser wakefield accelerator (LWFA), it is necessary to propagate an intense laser pulse long distances in a plasma without disruption. One of the purposes of this paper is to evaluate the stability properties of intense laser pulses propagating extended distances (many tens of Rayleigh ranges) in plasma channels. A three-dimensional envelope equation for the laser field is derived that includes nonparaxial effects such as group velocity dispersion, as well as wakefield and relativistic nonlinearities. It is shown that in the broad beam, short pulse limit the nonlinear terms in the wave equation that lead to Raman and modulation instabilities cancel. This cancellation can result in pulse propagation over extended distances, limited only by dispersion. Since relativistic focusing is not effective for short pulses, the plasma channel provides the guiding necessary for long distance propagation. Long pulses (greater than several plasma wavelengths), on the other hand, experience substantial modification due to Raman and modulation instabilities. For both short and long pulses the seed for instability growth is inherently determined by the pulse shape and not by background noise. These results would indicate that the self-modulated LWFA is not the optimal configuration for achieving high energies. The standard LWFA, although having smaller accelerating fields, can provide acceleration for longer distances. It is shown that by increasing the plasma density as a function of distance, the phase velocity of the accelerating field behind the laser pulse can be made equal to the speed of light. Thus electron dephasing in the accelerating wakefield can be avoided and energy gain increased by spatially tapering the plasma channel. Depending on the tapering gradient, this luminous wakefield phase velocity is obtained several plasma wavelengths behind the laser pulse. Simulations of laser pulses propagating in a tapered plasma channel are presented. Experimental techniques for generating a tapered density in a capillary discharge are described and an example of a GeV channel guided standard LWFA is presented.