A laser communications terminal prototype to demonstrate broadband links from aircraft to space is being developed by Airbus, working with the Netherlands organisation for applied scientific research (TNO). The project is co-financed by Airbus, TNO and the Netherlands Space Office.
The work forms part of ESA’s programme for secure and laser communication technologies called ScyLight and addresses optical as well as quantum communication. The laser communication terminal demonstrator developed by Airbus and partners will be designed, constructed and tested under laboratory conditions by the end of 2021.
The following year, UltraAir system will be installed in ESA’s optical ground station in Tenerife, Spain and tested in a communication link with another laser terminal on board the Alphasat telecommunications satellite, which is in geostationary orbit some 36 000 kilometres above Earth.
For the final verification, the UltraAir demonstrator will be integrated on an aircraft for flight testing by mid-2022.
The technology demonstrator will pave the way for a future UltraAir product which could reach data transmission rates of several gigabits-per-second while providing anti-jamming technology and a low probability of interception.
In the longer term, the devices will allow airline passengers to establish high-speed data connections using evolutions of the European Data Relay System (EDRS), also known as the SpaceDataHighway.
EDRS is an independent European satellite system and is currently used to accelerate the flow of information from low-Earth orbit satellites back to the ground. It uses lasers to relay data back to Europe in almost real time.
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