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Laser System Set To Revolutionize Future Aircraft, Satellite Data Links ( 55

An anonymous reader writes: A new laser system, dubbed HYPERION, promises to improve the transmission of data from aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and orbiting satellites to ground stations. The optical system, developed by a team of Innovate UK researchers, has been designed to send critical information more securely, rapidly and efficiently than traditional radio frequency (RF) methods. Suggested applications for HYPERION include helping UAVs involved in disaster monitoring and other humanitarian projects to quickly offload detailed data back to the ground for analysis. The system could also be applied in future airline systems to transmit vast amounts of technical data collected by on-board sensors to ground stations — a process which could help speed up maintenance procedures and significantly cut turnaround times.
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Laser System Set To Revolutionize Future Aircraft, Satellite Data Links

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    System development was delayed recently when developers were put in jail for shining lasers at flying aircraft. More at 11...

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      There could be some other unforeseen consequences []

    • Nelson refers to traditional RF communications, which can be vulnerable to interception and jamming as they rely on an extremely crowded part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

      As opposed to single-frequency pulsed laser system whose receivers can be jammed or overwhelmed by attack-emitter arrays sited on the ground, mounted on enemy fighters or on military satellites, made from tiny, energy-efficient off-the-shelf components. It's a cat and mouse game but the mouse is just one small step from becoming bigger than the cat. Jamming light systems is easy and energy-cheap. Jamming radio, especially if you're up against something that is designed to hop across a wide range of frequenc

  • Would this have been something for Iridium and other satellite phone operators? It would be interesting to finally get a technology that could wipe all the mobile phone masts (also known as 'cell towers' in Trump Land) off the face of the earth. What kind of bandwidth can these links achieve?
    • It might well be something for the uplink/downlink between the ground station and the satellites, if that happens to be a bandwidth bottleneck; but it would presumably be of minimal use for the actual phone-to-satellite link: The earth's surface is loaded with optically opaque clutter, and users probably wouldn't stand for a cellphone that only receives calls when it has a clear view of the sky. For some of the other users of satellite phone/data(ships, say) the requirement that the modem-pod be mounted on
    • This is not a good technology for cell phones. It won't work indoors in my pocket out doors or when I have the phone out and the sensor and transmitter are not pointing at the satellite. Lasers are very directional which makes them great for transmitting to a couple of locations but transmitting to thousands is not something it does well, you would basically be turning the laser into a flashlight.
  • a cooler name than HYPERION?
  • From their website,
    Our MRR based on Multiple Quantum Well (MQW) technology was recently tested in our labs and achieved a data rate of 40Mbps over a range of 5m
    - no word on what data rate this test achieved...

    • 5 meters? I think 10Gbit can do better...

      • These kinds of optical tests are usually done on an optical bench, which seldom exceed 12 feet in length.

        Here's an example: []

        They can simulate longer distances by diverging and/or attenuating the beam.

        Now that they've proven the concept in the lab, they'll apply for funding to try the system in real world conditions, probably using a small drone and tracking/pointing laser.

  • by Tighe_L ( 642122 ) on Thursday March 10, 2016 @09:22AM (#51671013) Homepage
    Does it fall back to RF?
    • by Xest ( 935314 )

      If you have a decent sized satellite constellation are there really many circumstances where typically fairly high flying aircraft like airliners and drones would lose line of sight for any kind of extended period?

      Though I agree this could presumably be a weak point for military applications, which are probably likely to be a more prominent use for this tech, despite the summary trying to side step that by mentioning only civilians uses.

      • Sunshine...
        High Altitude Clouds...
        Pulling into a hanger...

        I am sure there are more, those are just off the top of my head.

        • by delt0r ( 999393 )
          Sunshine won't affect any proper laser com system. Rain fading etc will be an issue. But not as much as you make think. Airliners do spend most of their time above the weather. And it is the long haul flights over the oceans that currently lack good options. Once over ground there are plenty of alternatives.
        • by Xest ( 935314 )

          None of those things other than pulling into a hanger are going to block a laser signal for any substantial amount of time, they're not going to result in any kind of extended blackout of communications.

          If you're in a hangar you don't need it anyway, because you could just use physical transfer of a storage device, wireless, or a good old physical network cable to transmit the data.

          Someone else suggested birds, how they imagine a flock of birds might consistently fly above the transmitter and receiver of a

  • The laser is irrelevant, its just the vector they are using to get a coherent beam rather than the typical pattern of radiation associated with RF operations.

    A better Yagi antenna is really all they've done. And it could work great ... depending on the particular atmospheric conditions at the time and what frequencies they are using. But really, alignment is the biggest issue I see here.

    This isn't even actually new. I use a directed beam for my drone all the time (Again, YAGI), do it at home with hobby g

    • When I see the article summary, I see satellites talking to "real" aircraft and UAVs that fly above the clouds, so the optical link should work quite well most of the time.

      Optical is much easier to make directional than RF, and also greatly increases the privacy of the link, it's much harder to position an effective eavesdropper. Finally, the ultimate bit-rates available in optical are higher than in RF, basically due to the shorter wavelength. None of these are of much concern to a hobbyist UAV operator,

      • UAVs above the clouds are effectively useless since they need to see below the clouds.

        And their reference material makes little reference to beaming to a sat, instead it clearly shows ground stations

        Because you know, hitting a sat in space moving at tens of thousands of miles an hour ... while on an aircraft, moving at hundreds of miles an hour through the air in a different direction with wind turbulence and human operators ... yea, thats EASY to keep a laser aimed at a tiny little sat ...

        They talk about u

    • I think someone hasn't RTFA.

      There's no laser on the aircraft. Just mirrors. Tiny, tiny ones.

      My job is system design of high speed bidirectional RF links for video over ethernet, and to achieve any decent range with reliable data rates, nothing is COTS, and the equipment on the plane is heavy and consumes a lot of power.

      With this arrangement, the weight and power budget for the aircraft would be tiny. Tiny enough to put on a professional video quality quadcopter drone like they use for shooting programs l

  • by RichMan ( 8097 ) on Thursday March 10, 2016 @09:30AM (#51671033)

    I thought pointing lasers at planes was bad and would get you arrested. Is it good now?

    Sure lasers are a fine transmission medium but they also affect the human eye, so generally not so good for the open air.

    • by Nutria ( 679911 )

      And laser light also gets absorbed by water, smoke, dust, etc in the atmosphere.

      • If they only plan to use it at high altitude and pointed at a commsat network, atmospheric effects become far less significant.
    • by Striek ( 1811980 )

      I know, I know. I actually read the article.

      The eye-safe system is able to aim lasers, with a wavelength of 1,550 nanometres, up from the ground towards an aircraft, which is fitted with a special reflector which captures the beam.

      Nothing to worry about.

    • Doesn't have to be visible spectrum lasers. E.g. your typical single-mode fiber optics runs laser light at around 1500nm, way deep in the infrared band.
    • Visible lasers that can dazzle or blind the (mostly redundant) human pilots: bad.

      Non-visible lasers carrying data down from satellites that are not generally in the pilot's field of view: o.k.

  • It's just a fluff piece about a line of research that's not finished yet. They've managed to send information over a laser at a distance of 1km, which, while not necessarily easy, is a far cry from low earth orbit.

    The whole article is full of phrases like "suggested applications", "could also be applied", "could help speed up", "leading to exciting developments", "will potentially make", and so on and so forth. So in other words, while it's an interesting line of research, they have accomplished nothing so

  • Lasers are great fun with cats. You can point them where the cat sees them and watch the cat chase the red dot across the floor. Amazing how fast, how far the dot can move with each twitch of your hand, each heartbeat.

    What you can't do is point precisely at a small target and hold that red dot there steadily. The smaller and farther the target, the harder it becomes to maintain that connection. If you were a stationary mechanical device controlled by a computer, it might be easier to keep on target, but sti

  • If you've got the technology, highly directional transmissions have advantages over broadcast, and higher-frequency transmissions (including or perhaps surpassing optical frequencies) have advantages over lower-frequency spectrum. If your civilization is blasting out easily-demodulated radio transmissions across the cosmos, it's not really that advanced.

    Couple that with the observation that colonists in another solar system would have to wait years to see Kanye West's lastest tweets, and you have all the an

  • I'm sure the folks actually working on this system really didn't appreciate the accompanying artist rendition of a massive laser blast from an evil looking kill-sat orbiting on high.
  • NASA's Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration project demonstrated the concept back in 2013. There is a follow up project called LCRD (Laser Communications Relay Demonstration). The only difference I see here is that the brits are using absorptive coating instead of optical telescopes.

A bug in the hand is better than one as yet undetected.