Netherlands-based industrial concern VDL and aircraft manufacturer Airbus are collaborating on laser communication equipment. Joint solutions will enable satellites, aircraft and ground stations to safely exchange large amounts of data.

The first step is building a so-called UltraAir terminal. VDL will take care of production and supply critical systems, while Airbus is expected to market the laser communication terminal.

UltraAir terminal technology

The UltraAir terminal should make it possible to send satellite traffic to equivalent terminals through laser beams. The partners want to support Gbps speeds, reduce interference with transmission traffic and make data difficult to intercept. Furthermore, laser communication-based satellite terminals are more compact, energy-efficient and secure than radio links.

In addition to the terminal, the partners will cooperate on the development of ground stations that can handle large amounts of data. VDL and Airbus are also joining forces on a project dedicated to securely exchanging encryption keys for data exchange.

Laser communication technology can be used for both drones and large aircraft. VDL and Airbus want to have an industrial prototype of the UltraAir terminal ready by 2024. The first test flight is expected to take off in 2025.

The laser communication technology used was developed by Netherlands-based research institute TNO. The project involves collaborations with other partners, such as Demco, a Dutch company specializing in mirrors, lenses and lasers for optical communication.

Funding

The value of Airbus and VDL’s project is estimated at tens of millions of euros spread over a period of six to seven years, Dutch media report.

Half of the financing for all three projects (about €60 million) will come from the National Growth Fund’s NxtGen Hightech fund. Airbus and partners will provide the remaining €30 million.

Furthermore, the development of the technology is stimulated by the ESA Secure and Laser Communication Technology (ScyLight) program of the European Space Agency ESA.

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