- Joe Breitfeller
Airbus Partners With VDL Group to Produce Airborne Laser Communication Terminal
Airbus and VDL have signed a partnership to develop ‘UltraAir’, a laser communication terminal for aircraft. UltraAir will enable large data exchanges using laser beams in a network of ground stations and satellites in geostationary orbit.
On Tuesday (January 10, 2023), Airbus announced that they have signed a partnership agreement for the development of a laser communication terminal for aircraft with VDL Group. The system, known as UltraAir, is based on development led by Airbus and the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), and will enable the exchange of large amounts of data using laser beams in a network of ground stations and satellites in geostationary orbit at 36,000 km above Earth. The two companies will now prepare a prototype demonstration, with the first test flight expected in 2024.
From 2024, Airbus and VDL Group, a Dutch high-tech industrial supplier, will industrialize the prototype to prepare it for integration with the aircraft testbed. VDL brings production design to the partnership and will manufacture critical systems for UltraAir. The partners expect to flight test the industrialized prototype in 2025. UltraAir includes technology such as a highly stable and precise optical mechatronic system, which will allow the laser terminal to achieve data transmission rates as fast as several gigabits-per-second, while providing anti-jamming and low interception probability. With growing demand for satellite bandwidth, traditional satcom radio-frequency bands are experiencing bottlenecks, while laser communication brings 1,000 times more data at then times the speed of the current network.
The laser communication network will allow military aircraft and UAVs to communicate with a multi-domain combat cloud, by utilizing laser-based satellite constellations such as Airbus’ SpaceDataHighway. In the longer term, UltraAir could also be implemented on commercial aircraft, allowing passengers to establish high-speed data connections. Financed by Airbus and VDL Group, UltraAir is also supported by the ESA ScyLight (Secure and Laser Communication Technology) programme, and the ‘NxtGen Hightech’ programme of the Dutch Growth Fund, led by TNO and a large group of Dutch companies.