Written by: Jonah Brody
Airbus and the Dutch industrial supplier VDL Group struck a partnership on January 10th to develop and manufacture a laser communication terminal for military aircraft. The communication terminal, known as UltraAir, would allow for more significant amounts of data sharing between ground terminals, satellites, and crewed aircraft or autonomous drones. The two organisations will begin preparing a prototype and aim for a first test flight in 2024 (Airbus, 2023).
As the demand for satellite bandwidth grows, traditional radio frequency bands are experiencing significant roadblocks. Laser communication offers a valuable alternative to these current satellite communication methods based on radio frequencies (Bosworth & Taylor, 2016). Laser communication allows for 1,000 times more data at ten times the speed of the existing network. According to Airbus and VDL Group, laser-based communication technology also has the advantage that it is more difficult to intercept, given how quickly the data travels and how narrow the beam is (Airbus, 2023). Over time, the two groups hope to expand this technology to the civilian sector for passenger aircraft.
Airbus and VDL Group have invested an undisclosed amount into the research and development of UltraAir. The European Space Agency’s Secure and Laser Communication Technology (ScyLight) programme and the NxtGen Hightech initiative of the Dutch Growth Fund support the project (Airbus, 2021). This project highlights the commitment of European industries and organisations to take the lead in laser communication technology for both military and commercial use.
Airbus and TNO to develop aircraft laser communication terminal. (2021, April 8). Airbus. Retrieved 10 January 2023, from https://www.airbus.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2021-04-airbus-and-tno-to-develop-aircraft-laser-communication-terminal
Airbus and VDL Group join forces to produce an airborne laser communication terminal. (2023, January 10). Airbus. Retrieved 10 January 2023, from https://www.airbus.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2023-01-airbus-and-vdl-group-join-forces-to-produce-an-airborne-laser
Bosworth, D., & Taylor, W. (2016). Bandwidth Demands Place New Strains on Satellite Communications Design. Analog Devices. Retrieved 10 January 2023, https://www.analog.com/en/technical-articles/satellite-communications-design.html