A partnership agreement for the development and production of the UltraAir laser communication terminal for aircraft has been inked by Airbus and VDL Group. The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) and Airbus will now plan a prototype demonstration and first flight test in 2024 based on the development they have been leading.
The prototype will be further industrialized beginning in 2024 by Airbus and VDL Group, a Dutch high-tech industrial supplier, to prepare it for integration with a hosting aircraft. VDL will produce crucial systems as part of the agreement and brings design for production. This industrialized prototype will undergo an aircraft flying test in 2025.
With the help of UltraAir, a network of ground stations and satellites in geostationary orbit, 36,000 kilometers above the Earth, will be able to exchange massive volumes of data via laser beams. This laser terminal will open the door for data transmission rates that might approach several gigabits per second while providing anti-jamming and a low probability of interception thanks to unmatched technology, including a very steady and precise optical mechatronic system.
By using laser-based satellite constellations like Airbus’ SpaceDataHighway, UltraAir will enable military aircraft and UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to communicate within a multi-domain combat cloud. The benefits of this technology will be advanced as a significant differentiator for delivering multi-domain combat coordination for government and defense customers. This is an important turning point in Airbus’ broader plan to advance laser communications. Long-term plans call for the use of UltraAir aboard commercial airplanes to provide high-speed data connectivity for passengers.
Laser communication technologies are the upcoming revolution in satellite communications and are seen as the answer to data traffic in the quantum era (satcom). The classic satcom radio-frequency bands are suffering constraints as satellite bandwidth demand rises. In comparison to the current network, laser communication delivers 1,000 times more data at 10 times the speed. As opposed to already-congested radio channels, laser communications have the advantage of avoiding interference and detection since their significantly narrower beam makes them very difficult to intercept. Thus, compared to radio, laser terminals may be lighter, use less energy, and provide more security.
The UltraAir project is co-financed by Airbus and VDL Collection and supported by the ESA ScyLight (Secure and Laser Communication Technology) and “NxtGen Hightech” programs as part of the Dutch Growth Fund, which is run by TNO and a sizable group of Dutch enterprises.
COVER: Tech Times