In the modern era of flying, securing fast transmissions rates and improving communications security are prime goals for aero manufacturers. To secure their future at the forefront of this technology, Airbus have announced an exciting project which will oversee the development of a new a laser communication terminal demonstrator for aircraft.
The terminal demonstrator, referred to as UltraAir, is set to be manufactured in a partnership between Airbus and the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO). Engineers are hoping to have the demonstrator installed on aircraft by mid-2022.
A big step forward for satcom
Airbus are clear that there are benefits for commercial and military aircraft through developing satellite communication (satcom) technologies. Airbus’ pre-existing SpaceDataHighway constellation will enable passengers on commercial aircraft to obtain high-speed data connections. This will enable hugely improved in-flight WIFI, which could drastically improve the passenger experience on Airbus aircraft.
Military aircraft and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) will also benefit from the UltraAir through the ability to connect within a combat cloud. This could see better communication and data security for both military aircraft and UAV.
The UltraAir works by allowing SpaceDataHighway (EDRS) in geostationary orbit and aircraft in flight to communicate through laser connection. Observation satellites connect to the EDRS satellites and allow data to be related down to earth. Without the UltraAir, this would usually take hours to complete.
This is why Airbus are extremely enthusiastic about the project, and the huge array of possibilities this opens up for their communication networks. And the excitement is shared with project partners TNO, who are providing their years of experience in opto-mechatronics.
Production of the terminal will be located in the Netherlands at Airbus’ Defence and Space headquarters. Member of the project are expecting to complete the first ground tests in Tenerife, in as early as 2022. These tests should see the first connectivity between the UltraAir demonstrator and the Alphasat satellite.
The need for lasers
Many envision laser terminals as the key technology for future communications. One of the reasons for this is the added security benefit they hold over traditional satellite communication devices. Avoiding interference is easier with laser links than it is with satcom radio-frequency bands. A narrower beam also ensures they are far less likely to be intercepted. This also has added benefits to the efficiency of satellite communications.
Airbus believe that the investment in developing laser link technology will help the airline to adapt to growing consumer demands within the upcoming decade. With the benefits the UltraAir has for in-flight connectivity, passengers will certainly be eagerly anticipating its deployment on future Airbus aircraft.
(Words by Jonathan Ritchie)