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Airbus and The Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) partnered up to develop a laser communication terminal for aircraft and satellites known as UltraAir. This laser terminal is capable of maintaining a secure connection with tens of gigabits-per-second data rates. Their plan is to incorporate this technology into geostationary satellites 36,000 km above Earth, these laser communication systems will be capable of creating a direct line of sight with military aircraft, UAV, and in the future commercial aircraft. [1]

The use of laser links between satellites and terminals is widely seen as the next generation of satellite communications technology. This technology deals with a number of problems with radio frequency bands, significantly increasing data transmission rates and bandwidth while improving security and resilience. The communications improvements enabled by laser-based satellite communications are seen as key to enabling military aircraft and drones to link to the cloud during operations. They could also eventually let airline passengers establish more and better high-speed data connections.

The first tests of UltraAir are planned to take place at the end of 2021 in Tesat’s laboratory in Stuttgart, Germany. Ground tests are expected to start in early 2022 in Tenerife, Spain, where connectivity will be established between an UltraAir demonstrator and the laser terminal embarked on the Alphasat satellite using the ESA Optical Ground Station. For the final test, the UltraAir demonstrator will be integrated onboard an aircraft for flight testing by mid-2022. [2]

Related Links

ESA – European Space Data Highway

Airbus to install laser terminals on aircraft