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Illuminating the Future: The Rising Role of Laser Free Space Optical Communication (FSO)

Introduction

In an era where data reigns supreme and connectivity is vital, innovative technologies are reshaping how we communicate, especially beyond our planet’s boundaries. Laser Free Space Optical (FSO) communication, a transformative method of transmitting data using laser light, is rapidly emerging as a game-changer for a multitude of applications. From lunar missions to remote areas on Earth, FSO technology is revolutionizing communication in ways we could only dream of. In this article, we’ll delve into the growing importance and diverse applications of FSO technology.

 

Optical Wireless Communications (OWC), or Free-Space Optical Communication (FSO)

Broadband Internet access, providing high-speed connectivity with a minimum data transfer rate of 256 Kbit/s, remains unavailable in numerous regions, presenting a significant challenge in today’s world. In areas like densely populated urban environments, where the installation of optical fiber infrastructure incurs substantial costs, wireless Internet access has become increasingly popular.

While microwave-based data transfer technology has advantages such as direct transmission through space without signal bending and the ability to bypass the ionosphere, maintaining microwave links in large cities has grown challenging due to radio frequency saturation, susceptibility to interference, and data security concerns. High license fees for frequency bands and worries about potential health effects have also limited their widespread use.

To address the growing demand for faster and more efficient data transfer while mitigating these limitations, Optical Wireless Communications (OWC), also known as Free-Space Optical Communication (FSO), has emerged as a promising alternative. FSO is a wireless optical communication technology that utilizes open space to transmit data between two points without obstructing the line of sight.

Unlike optical fiber communication, FSO operates through an unguided channel, such as the atmosphere or vacuum in space. This technology harnesses visible and infrared light for data transmission, offering advantages such as high bandwidth, rapid deployment, low power consumption, and cost-effective transmission. It is particularly valuable in scenarios where laying optical fiber is impractical or unfeasible. Nonetheless, FSO links are sensitive to atmospheric conditions, such as snow, fog, and rain, which can scatter and absorb signals, leading to attenuation and limiting their range and capacity. Despite these challenges, FSO technology has matured, with successful demonstrations and operational applications, including SILEX, GOLD, LADEE, and the European Data Relay System (EDRS), marking a new era in laser-based communication.

Free-space optical communication (FSO) is a method of transmitting optical signals from one location to another through the Earth’s atmosphere or the vacuum of space. FSO relies on the Line-of-Sight principle, requiring an unobstructed path between the transmitter and receiver for effective communication.

In FSO, data transmission occurs via a wireless medium using modulated near-infrared light beams, typically with wavelengths between 800 nm and 1700 nm, as the carrier wave. At the transmitter, input data is converted into a modulated electrical signal that controls the intensity of the laser light by manipulating the laser current. The transmitter’s telescope focuses this modulated laser beam towards the receiver’s telescope. The optical signal travels through the medium and is received by the receiver’s telescope. A photodetector at the receiver then converts the optical signal back into an electrical signal, which is subsequently demodulated to retrieve the transmitted data. To eliminate background solar radiation, an optical filter is employed at the receiver.

FSO links are straightforward in construction, typically consisting of two identical heads that enable duplex data transmission. These heads are directly connected to computers or telecommunications networks. The optical radiation source can vary, including light-emitting diodes (LEDs), semiconductor lasers, or vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs). LEDs and semiconductor lasers are suitable for short-distance wireless optical links, such as indoor applications, while VCSELs are preferred for longer-distance FSO links due to their increased power and faster transmission speeds. Lasers, with their coherent light beams, high-frequency modulation capabilities, and low beam divergence, are the preferred light sources for advanced FSO applications.

FSO technology can be categorized into four main sub-types: terrestrial, non-terrestrial (or aerial), space, and deep-space. Terrestrial FSO links are used for communication between buildings. Non-terrestrial FSO links encompass connections between the ground and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), ground-to-high altitude platform systems (HAPSs), and HAPS-to-HAPS links. Space FSO includes ground-to-satellite, satellite-to-ground, and satellite-to-satellite links, with the latter often referred to as laser inter-satellite links (ISLs). Finally, deep-space FSO involves communication between Earth and spacecraft in deep space, such as the Galileo mission.

Free Space Optical Communication

Challenges of FSO technology

There are a few challenges that need to be addressed before FSO technology can be widely used for interplanetary communication:

  • Atmospheric conditions: FSO communication can be affected by atmospheric conditions, such as clouds and fog. Researchers are developing new techniques to mitigate the effects of atmospheric conditions on FSO communication.
  • Pointing and tracking: FSO communication requires precise pointing and tracking of the transmitter and receiver. Researchers are developing new pointing and tracking technologies for FSO communication.
  • Cost: FSO communication systems can be expensive to develop and deploy. Researchers are working to reduce the cost of FSO communication systems.

Researchers are developing a number of techniques to mitigate the effects of atmospheric conditions on FSO communication, including:

  • Adaptive optics: Adaptive optics systems can be used to compensate for atmospheric turbulence, which can degrade the quality of FSO signals. Adaptive optics systems use deformable mirrors to correct for the distortions caused by atmospheric turbulence.
  • Diversity techniques: Diversity techniques involve using multiple FSO links to transmit the same data. This can help to improve the reliability of FSO communication by reducing the effects of atmospheric conditions. For example, if one FSO link is affected by fog, the other links may still be able to transmit data successfully.
  • Coding techniques: Coding techniques can be used to reduce the errors caused by atmospheric conditions. Coding techniques involve adding redundancy to the transmitted data so that the receiver can correct for errors.

In addition to these techniques, researchers are also developing new FSO system designs that are more resistant to atmospheric conditions. For example, researchers are developing FSO systems that use shorter wavelengths of light, which are less affected by atmospheric conditions.

Growing employment of laser free space optical communication (FSO)

The adoption of Laser Free Space Optical Communication (FSO) is gaining momentum across various sectors, including both military and civilian applications. This technology is being harnessed for a wide range of purposes, from terrestrial short-range systems to high-data-rate communication in aircraft, satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and high-altitude platforms (HAPs). It’s even being explored for near-space and deep-space missions, allowing for efficient data transmission over vast distances.

One of the key advantages of laser-based FSO is its ability to transmit data using tightly focused beams of light, thanks to laser wavelengths that are significantly shorter than radio waves. This precision minimizes wasted energy during transmission and enables the use of smaller antennas for both ground and space receivers, ultimately reducing satellite size and mass. The technology’s potential is vast, providing gigabit Ethernet access for enterprise networks, supporting bandwidth-intensive applications like medical imaging and HDTV, and serving as a last-mile connectivity solution for residential access.

FSO technology is finding applications in various sectors, including telecommunications, disaster recovery, and temporary installations. It offers rapid point-to-point communication deployment in environments where laying fiber or using radio communications is impractical. Furthermore, the miniaturization of optical communication systems is opening up opportunities for small satellites, including CubeSats, which can provide internet connectivity to remote regions without the need for costly cabling infrastructure. Laser communications are also central to plans for satellite constellations that promise global internet coverage. In summary, FSO is a versatile and promising technology with broad applications, making it a significant player in modern communication systems.

Optical LAN and Short-Range Laser Communications:

Beyond aircraft and maritime applications, FSO technology is finding its place in terrestrial communication networks. Companies like Northern Storm and Mostcom have developed the NS10G system, capable of providing 10 gigabit throughput over short distances (up to 1 km) at a fraction of the cost of traditional fiber installations. This technology eliminates the need for physical cables, offering flexibility and security in various outdoor applications.

Other startups like Cablefree and Lightpointe offer wireless optical communication solutions that cater to enterprise networks. FSO technology not only reduces costs but also enhances security, making it an attractive option for organizations looking to connect buildings or campuses without the constraints of fiber or public networks.

Short-range Laser communications have found valuable applications in scenarios where obstacles like rivers or roads make laying traditional fiber optic cables impractical. For instance, Northern Storm, a U.S.-based enterprise, has collaborated with Mostcom in Eastern Europe to develop the NS10G system. This system offers a 10 gigabit-per-second throughput over distances of up to 1 kilometer at a cost that is only a quarter of the price of installing a 10 gigabit fiber line.

This technology employs optical transmitters and receivers to transmit data through the air, eliminating the need for physical cables. One of the key advantages of Free-Space Optical (FSO) communication is its compatibility with equipment from various vendors and its independence from security software upgrades. British startup Cablefree offers an array of FSO solutions for high-performance wireless connectivity, boasting a maximum network transmission capacity of 10Gbps, which is used in various outdoor applications.

Leveraging FSO for intra-enterprise networking offers several benefits, including cost savings by avoiding fees associated with leased lines and fiber cables, making it particularly advantageous for larger enterprises. FSO is more secure than transmitting data over public networks and enables the simultaneous transmission of multiple gigabytes of data. Lightpointe, a U.S.-based startup, specializes in point-to-point radio-based FSO technology, offering wireless bridge solutions that connect buildings and organizations at high speeds without the need for traditional fiber lines or reliance on public network infrastructure. This not only results in lower monthly costs but also enhances network security.

Collinear’s Backhaul Innovation:

As communication infrastructure evolves towards 5G and beyond, efficient data transmission within networks becomes crucial. Collinear, a U.S.-based startup, offers a robust and highly scalable backhaul architecture, including Hybrid Free Space Optic (HFSO) and wireless radio frequencies. These technologies optimize data transmission, enabling real-time communication and cost-efficient data transfer, which is essential for smart city applications.

The Power of Laser FSO Communication

Laser FSO communication is gaining traction in both military and civilian sectors, offering a versatile solution for a wide range of applications:

  1. Enhancing Space Communication: NASA has recognized the potential of laser FSO communication to revolutionize space communication. Unlike traditional radio waves, laser beams offer higher bandwidth and directional transmission. For example, a typical optical signal from Mars spreads over just a fraction of the United States, drastically reducing energy waste. This efficiency translates into smaller antennas, lighter spacecraft, and faster data transmission. With laser FSO, NASA aims to shorten data transmission times, ensuring real-time communication with spacecraft on Mars and beyond.
  2. Groundbreaking Data Rates: FSO technology boasts unprecedented data transfer speeds. With laser beams traveling at the speed of light, it’s possible to transmit vast amounts of data in a matter of seconds. This capability is a game-changer for missions requiring rapid data exchange, such as Mars rovers, lunar bases, and Earth-orbiting satellites. The reduced latency opens up new horizons for real-time decision-making and collaboration in space exploration.
  3. Secure and Undetectable Communication: Security is paramount in both civilian and military applications. Laser FSO communication offers a higher level of security compared to traditional radio frequency systems. Laser beams can be precisely focused, minimizing the risk of interception. This feature makes FSO ideal for transmitting sensitive data, including military communications and confidential government messages.
  4. Terrestrial Applications: The benefits of FSO technology are not confined to space; they extend to terrestrial applications as well. In scenarios where traditional communication infrastructure is challenging to deploy, such as rural areas or disaster-stricken regions, FSO can quickly establish secure point-to-point links. It’s also gaining ground in cellular networks, disaster recovery, and last-mile connectivity.
  5. Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs): FSO is becoming a crucial technology for advanced UASs operating at low altitudes. These unmanned aircraft require high-bandwidth data transfer over long distances, making FSO a perfect fit. It enables quick and secure communication links, even in challenging environments.
  6. CubeSats and Miniaturized Spacecraft: As space missions become more diverse and miniature satellites like CubeSats gain popularity, FSO technology is adapting. Compact and lightweight FSO systems can be integrated into these small spacecraft, enabling high-speed data exchange and connectivity.
  7. Global Internet Connectivity: Companies like Facebook are exploring FSO technology to deliver internet connectivity to remote and underserved regions. Solar-powered drones and low-orbit satellites equipped with FSO systems can beam internet signals with incredible speed and efficiency. This approach has the potential to bridge the digital divide and connect billions of people worldwide.
  8. World Record in Data Transmission: Laser FSO technology has set remarkable records. In one instance, ADVA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) achieved a data transmission rate of 13.16Tbit/s over a distance of 10.45km, a vital step toward providing high-speed broadband to rural areas.
  9. European Data Relay System (EDRS): The European Space Agency (ESA) and Airbus Defence and Space are developing the EDRS, a laser communication system aimed at creating a global network of laser-enabled satellites. These satellites, like Sentinel 1A and 1B, are equipped with Laser Communication Terminals (LCTs) to facilitate high-speed data exchange.
  10. Global Constellations: Companies like SpaceX are planning vast satellite constellations to provide global internet coverage. Laser FSO communication will be essential for interconnecting these satellites and creating a seamless canopy of internet access for the world.

Laser communication from satellites

Laser communication from satellites is paving the way for revolutionary advancements in global internet connectivity. Free Space Optics (FSO) terminals, due to their compact size and lower resource requirements, offer a promising solution for satellite platforms. They reduce satellite launching and deployment costs significantly compared to Radio Frequency (RF) links, particularly over inter-satellite distances, as they require smaller antenna diameters and less onboard power and mass.

Recent developments in laser communication technology are exemplified by the Aerospace demonstration using low-Earth-orbiting CubeSats, AeroCube-7B and AeroCube-7C, achieving data transmission rates of 100 Mbps—50 times higher than traditional satellite communication systems of similar size. These systems leverage free-space laser communication, offering enhanced data rates and security in a compact form. The use of hard-mounted lasers, precise attitude control systems, and water-based propulsion for proximity maneuvers exemplifies the innovation in satellite-based laser communication.

Moreover, major tech players like Facebook are exploring the use of solar-powered aircraft and low-orbit satellites to expand internet access to remote regions. This initiative includes the development of a laser communications system capable of beaming data over long distances, greatly improving data transfer speed. In some scenarios, solar-powered high-altitude drones will use FSO links to provide internet connectivity to suburban areas, while Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites will use FSO to deliver internet access to regions where deploying drones is impractical. For example, Project Loon in collaboration with AP State FiberNet is deploying thousands of FSOC links to connect rural and remote areas in India, significantly expanding broadband access and providing cost-effective solutions to bridge the digital divide.

Intersatellite Laser links

Many companies are embarking on satellite constellation projects with a vision to utilize laser communications for intersatellite links, creating expansive global networks that can provide internet coverage to remote areas on Earth.

Commercially, the increasing recognition of the significance of laser communications in establishing efficient space backbone connectivity has driven companies like SpaceX to conduct trials of laser intersatellite links between prototype satellites. SpaceX’s ambitious constellation project, which plans to deploy nearly 12,000 satellites, highlights the importance of laser communications in future space networks. In low Earth orbit networks, each satellite is equipped with four laser communications terminals, facilitating connections within and between satellite planes. Additionally, localized meshed networks of drones or high-altitude platforms in the upper atmosphere are forming mini-constellations, enabling rapid response and emergency communication restoration in disaster-stricken areas.

One notable instance of this technology’s effectiveness occurred during the 2019 earthquake in Peru and Ecuador, where a network of solar-powered air balloons equipped with antennae quickly restored cellphone connectivity to the affected region. As the technology continues to prove successful, it is estimated that approximately 700 communication nano/microsatellites will be launched over the next five years. These satellites will play a crucial role in supporting the rapidly expanding Internet of Things and machine-to-machine communication market. Current optical communications systems for small satellite applications can achieve data rates of about 10 Gb/s, with a terminal weight of approximately 5 kg and power consumption of around 50 W.

Europe

Europe’s Global Laser Communications System is taking shape with the installation of the OSIRIS laser communication system on the International Space Station’s Bartolomeo platform. Developed through collaboration between Airbus Defence and Space, DLR (German Aerospace Center), and Tesat-Spacecom GmbH & Co. KG, the OSIRIS system aims to provide high-capacity space-to-ground laser communication, offering a data rate of 10 Gbps over a range of approximately 1,500 km. This initiative is part of the broader vision to expand the European Data Relay System (EDRS) into a global laser communications network by 2020, with the goal of establishing it as an international standard.

In 2014, ESA and Airbus successfully tested the EDRS system by connecting Sentinel 1A, a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite, with the Alphasat satellite in Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) via Laser Communication Terminals (LCTs). This test demonstrated the capability to transmit images from LEO to GEO and back to Earth, with Tesat’s LCT showcasing a point-to-point data transfer range of approximately 28,000 miles at a transfer rate of 5 Gigabits per second. With the increasing number of Sentinel satellites and their growing data volumes, laser communication becomes a crucial technology to support data-intensive missions, and it has potential applications in various sectors, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for real-time secure communications. General Atomics, Spezialtechnik, is among the companies planning to leverage EDRS laser communications for their UAVs in the near future, aiming to enhance their data transmission capabilities.

World record in free-space optical communications

In May 2018, ADVA, in collaboration with the German Aerospace Center (DLR), achieved a groundbreaking world record in free-space laser communications. The experiment simulated a ground-to-geostationary satellite connection and successfully transmitted a remarkable 13.16 terabits per second (Tbit/s) of data over a distance of 10.45 kilometers. This remarkable achievement represents a significant step toward bringing high-speed broadband access to rural and underserved areas.

The demonstration involved establishing a laser link between a ground station in Weilheim, Germany, and a simulated satellite positioned over 10 kilometers away on Mount Hohenpeißenberg. This remarkable data rate, approximately eight times higher than DLR’s previous record, illustrates the potential of ADVA’s technology, including their QuadFlex™ line cards. These components supported advanced modulation techniques, allowing each wavelength to carry 200 Gbit/s of payload data using dual-polarization 16QAM and robust soft-decision forward error correction. Despite challenging atmospheric turbulence conditions similar to those experienced between ground and geostationary satellites, the ADVA FSP 3000 CloudConnect™ platform effectively managed extreme data transport requirements.

DLR’s contribution was instrumental in developing the free-space terminal technology that facilitated this achievement, involving the transmission of fast-varying, distorted wavefronts into a fiber with a cross-section smaller than a human hair. This world record serves DLR’s broader goal of making high-speed internet access accessible in remote regions through affordable satellite links. This endeavor aligns with DLR’s mission to bridge the digital divide by connecting underserved areas to the internet at high data rates, demonstrating the feasibility of such connections via laser links to geostationary satellites as part of the DLR THRUST project.

Free-Space Optical Communication by the German Aerospace Center:

Researchers at the Institute of Communication and Navigation, German Aerospace Center, have achieved impressive 1 Gbps free-space optical (FSO) communication links between aircraft and ground stations, a breakthrough with various practical applications. This high-speed data transmission technology, which utilizes high-resolution sensor systems, is particularly valuable for disaster management, natural event monitoring, and traffic observation.

The system they’ve developed comprises several key components. First, there’s the optical transmitter, known as the Free-space Experimental Laser Terminal II (FELT II), which is installed on a Do228 aircraft. FELT II includes a two-stage tracking system, an inertial measurement unit for velocity and orientation measurements, an optical bench located inside the aircraft’s cabin, and a dome-shaped assembly positioned beneath the cabin.

On the ground side, they have designed a transportable optical ground station (TOGS) to receive the data. TOGS features a pneumatically deployable Ritchey-Chrétien-Cassegrain telescope with a main mirror diameter of 60 cm. It’s equipped with an optical tracking system, dual-antenna global positioning system, and an inclination sensor to determine its own location and heading accurately.

The system developed by this team consists of several key components:

  1. Free-Space Experimental Laser Terminal II (FELT II): An optical transmitter installed in an aircraft (Do228) equipped with a two-stage tracking system and an inertial measurement unit to determine velocity and orientation. The optical bench is located inside the aircraft’s cabin, with a dome-shaped assembly below.
  2. Transportable Optical Ground Station (TOGS): Designed for data reception, TOGS features a pneumatically deployable Ritchey-Chrétien-Cassegrain telescope with a main mirror diameter of 60cm. TOGS is equipped with an optical tracking system, dual-antenna global positioning system, and an inclination sensor for location and heading determination. It also includes supports for station leveling.

This achievement enables ultrafast information transfer, making it ideal for data-intensive operations that rely on high-resolution sensor systems, such as disaster management, natural event monitoring, and traffic observation.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ Laser Airborne Communication:

In October 2022, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) achieved a significant milestone by successfully demonstrating air-to-air laser communication between two King Air aircraft equipped with Laser Airborne Communication (LAC) terminals. Laser communication offers advantages such as Low Probability of Intercept/Low Probability of Detection (LPI/LPD) and anti-jam capabilities, making it highly desirable for military applications. During the test flight, the team achieved a data transfer rate of 1.0 Gigabits per second (Gbps), exchanging real-time navigation, video, and voice data.

GA-ASI envisions expanding this technology to other platforms, including unmanned aircraft, maritime vessels, and space systems, which could greatly enhance communication capabilities across various domains.

High-Bandwidth Maritime Communications by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL):

In 2017, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) made significant strides in high-bandwidth FSO communications, particularly in the challenging maritime environment. APL’s technology demonstrated the capability to achieve data rates of up to 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) between two moving ships, proving its operational utility. This achievement opens the door to various maritime applications, including voice communication, data transport, and video streaming.

APL’s system overcame several challenges, including sea spray and fog, showcasing its resilience in adverse conditions. The successful testing on the Sea Hunter, an autonomous unmanned vessel, further highlighted the adaptability of FSO technology.

 

 

GA-ASI successfully performs air-to-air laser communication demonstration

In October 2022, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) achieved a significant milestone by successfully completing an air-to-air laser communication demonstration. This demonstration involved GA-ASI’s Laser Airborne Communication (LAC) terminals integrated onto two King Air aircraft owned by the company. Laser communication is highly desirable for military applications due to its Low Probability of Intercept/Low Probability of Detection (LPI/LPD) and anti-jam capabilities, which support much higher data rates compared to radio frequency systems.

According to Satish Krishnan, GA-ASI’s Vice President of Mission Payloads & Exploitation, this air-to-air demonstration was a major success and a critical milestone for the company’s Lasercom development team. It opens the door to future opportunities for demonstrating crosslinks between aircraft and various other platforms, including unmanned aircraft, maritime vessels, and space systems.

The flight test took place in segregated airspace near Yuma, Arizona, with the aircraft departing from Montgomery Field in Kearney Mesa, California, on September 26, 2022. During the test, the team maintained a stable link at a speed of 1.0 Gigabits per second (Gbps) and successfully exchanged various types of data, including real-time navigation, video, and voice data.

GA-ASI has developed a family of optical communication capabilities, and it is expected to play a vital role in transitioning these capabilities to users across different domains, including air and sea. Laser communications hold the potential to enable Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) produced by GA-ASI to conduct beyond-line-of-sight communications for airborne, maritime, and ground users who also rely on optical communications. This technology can be applied as a podded solution to GA-ASI’s full range of unmanned aircraft, including the MQ-9B SkyGuardian®/SeaGuardian®, MQ-9A Reaper, and MQ-1C Gray Eagle 25M.

 

 

APL Demonstrates High-Bandwidth Communications Capability at Sea

In 2017, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) successfully demonstrated a high-bandwidth free-space optical (FSO) communications system between two moving ships, showcasing the operational utility of FSO technology in the maritime environment. The development of this technology was essential for naval platforms to maintain effective communication in reduced radio frequency (RF) or emission control conditions while preserving tactical advantages and situational awareness.

Juan Juarez, the technical lead for the project, highlighted APL’s achievement as the first organization to operate such a high-capacity optical communications capability, delivering speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second on board ships at sea and in challenging near-shore environments. This technology provided a compelling alternative to conventional RF and microwave communications, offering secure high data rates outside the traditional RF spectrum.

APL’s FSO system addressed previous limitations in FSO technology, such as system mobility, link range, and data rate, especially near water. During testing, APL achieved significant milestones, including over 14 hours of link-up time, even in challenging conditions with 4- to 6-foot high seas. The system demonstrated error-free data transport at ranges greater than 25 kilometers, voice communications at greater than 35 kilometers, and chat messaging up to 45 kilometers within the line of sight.

Additionally, Vice Adm. Nora Tyson, commander of U.S. 3rd Fleet, participated in a video teleconference over the optical link, marking a historic moment. The FSO technology proved its resilience even in adverse weather conditions typical of the San Diego area, including fog and haze, with links extending over 10 kilometers achieved during foggy periods.

During the second week of testing, APL installed the hardware on the Sea Hunter, an autonomous continuous trail unmanned vessel (ACTUV) developed by DARPA and the Office of Naval Research. The successful demonstration included multiple links between the Sea Hunter and the M/V Merlin, both navigating in challenging conditions with sea spray and marine layer fog. Despite these challenges, the FSO equipment achieved data rates as high as 7.5 gigabits over a link between the two vessels, demonstrating the technology’s robustness and potential for maritime applications.

Recent Breakthroughs in Free space optical technology

Aircision’s high-power laser

Aircision has developed a high-power laser that can transmit data over distances of up to 100 kilometers. This laser is being used in a number of commercial and military applications, including FSO communication.

Aircision’s laser is based on a new type of fiber optic technology that can generate much higher power levels than traditional lasers. This makes it possible to transmit data over longer distances and through more challenging atmospheric conditions.

Aircision’s laser is already being used in a number of commercial applications, such as providing high-speed internet access to remote areas. It is also being used in a number of military applications, such as providing secure communication between ground forces and aircraft.

Boston Micromachines’ adaptive optics system

Boston Micromachines has developed an adaptive optics system for FSO communication. This system can compensate for atmospheric turbulence, which can improve the data rate and reliability of FSO communication.

Boston Micromachines’ adaptive optics system uses a deformable mirror to correct for the distortions caused by atmospheric turbulence. The system can be used to improve the performance of FSO communication systems in a variety of conditions, including cloudy and foggy weather.

Boston Micromachines’ adaptive optics system is still in its early stages of commercialization, but it has the potential to revolutionize the way we use FSO communication.

QinetiQ’s quantum FSO system

QinetiQ has developed a quantum FSO system that uses the principles of quantum mechanics to improve the security and reliability of communication. This system is still in its early stages of development, but it has the potential to revolutionize FSO communication.

QinetiQ’s quantum FSO system uses quantum entanglement to create a secure and tamper-proof communication channel. The system is also able to detect and correct errors in the transmitted data.

QinetiQ’s quantum FSO system is still in its early stages of development, but it has the potential to revolutionize the way we use FSO communication. Quantum FSO could be used to provide secure communication for a variety of applications, including military, government, and financial services.

 

Market Growth and Future Prospects:

The Free Space Optics (FSO) market is poised for significant growth, projected to reach USD 47.5 billion by 2027, with a CAGR of 34.1% from 2022. FSO technology addresses various networking scenarios, including outdoor wireless access, enterprise connectivity, military applications, and more. It offers advantages such as low initial investment, easy installation, and immunity to RF interference, making it an attractive choice for diverse applications.

Innovations like optical angular momentum, which uses twisted photons for transmission, promise even higher bandwidths and increased security. The visible light communication (VLC) market is also on the rise, driven by faster data transfer, RF spectrum bandwidth limitations, and energy efficiency.

The FSO market is segmented by components, applications, and regions. Transmitters, crucial for their simplicity and robustness, are expected to be the fastest-growing segment. In terms of applications, defense holds a significant share due to FSO’s secure, high-bandwidth capabilities, with applications extending to military bases, ship-to-ship communications, and more.

North America currently dominates the FSO market, with a strong presence in aerospace and defense. However, the Asia-Pacific region is experiencing rapid growth, driven by increasing technological innovation and government investments in connectivity and technology.

Key players in the FSO market include Lightpointe Communications, FSONA Networks Corp., and Panasonic Corp., among others. These companies continuously innovate and collaborate to expand their product portfolios and drive market growth.

In conclusion, Free-Space Optical technology is poised to transform aircraft to ground communications, maritime connectivity, and terrestrial networks. With its high bandwidth, security, and adaptability to adverse conditions, FSO technology is at the forefront of modern communication solutions, propelling us into a new era of high-speed data transmission and connectivity.

 

Market growth

The Global Free Space Optics (FSO) or Optical Wireless Market is projected to grow from USD 4.4 billion in 2022 to USD 47.5 billion by 2027 at a CAGR value of 34.1% from 2022 to 2027. Free Space Optics (FSO) Communication Market size is  led by its wide range of usability in several networking scenarios such as Outdoor Wireless Access, Storage Area Networks(SAN), enterprise connectivity, last-mile access, bridging WAN access, Metro-Network Extensions, and military access.

 

The requirement of low initial investment, easy installation features, and no use of fibers provide advantages over the traditional optical systems, supporting the free space optics communication market demand. The rapid increase in the need for digital connectivity in the commercial & residential sectors is fueling the market. Today, 4.62 billion people utilize the internet, accounting for 58.4 percent of the world’s population. The market is being propelled forward by the increasing usage of FSO to connect Local Area Networks (LANs), Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs), provide backhaul network connectivity for mobile wireless networks, and interactions using optical fibers. The requirement for high bandwidth and the growing use of free optics in military applications are driving the industry. In wireless optical communication technology, the transmission of information from point to point is done using a highly narrow beam, which ensures the security of the information being transferred.

 

The free space optics communication market is witnessing significant growth owing to the increasing innovation in the technology and communication sector. The recent development in the FSO communication market includes the introduction of optical angular momentum, which uses twisted photons for transmission. Twisted photons can carry additional information resulting in much higher-bandwidth communications technology. This technology is immune to radio frequency interference and uses less power for transmission. In comparison to other remote transmission innovations or RF, information transmitted through free space optics is considered to be more secure.

 

Factors driving the growth of the FSO market include last-mile connectivity, no licensing, and alternative solution to overburdened RF technology for outdoor networking. The visible light communication (VLC) market is expected to grow from USD 2.56 billion in 2018 to USD 75.00 billion by 2023, at a CAGR of 96.57% between 2018 and 2023. Major factors driving this growth are faster and safer data transfer, RF spectrum bandwidth crunch, and less energy consumption.

 

Free Space Optics (FSO) Market: By Component

The market is segmented into transmitter, receiver, modulator, and demodulator based on the components. The transmitter segment is expected to be the fastest-growing segment in the free space optics (FSO) market from 2022 to 2027. Transmitters are preferred over other components because they are technically simple, include no mechanical components, and require very little maintenance. They are also immune to turbulence that causes segment growth.

Free Space Optics (FSO) Market: By Application

Disaster recovery, defense, healthcare, security, and others are the segmentations based on the application. The defense segment is expected to hold a larger share as compared to other segments. FSO is the next step in connecting to the internet for the military, as it can deliver low-cost, large-bandwidth, elevated, and highly secure in space and within the troposphere. In comparison with current Radio Frequency (RF) systems, this is being researched and investigated for applications and technical utilities in both civil and military domain systems. Its immense advantages include security level, improved data prices, fast infrastructure, no necessity for licensed spectrum, best costs, and ease of operation.

 

A surge in demand for high bandwidth and increasing application of free space optical technology in military environments is strongly driving the growth of the free space optics market. Bandwidth usage is experiencing unprecedented growth and the demand for bandwidth is not likely to slow down in the coming years. Free space optical communication is a viable solution for various military applications and the most promising military environments where FSO technology can be used include military bases, in between bases where bases are co-located within 2-4 km of one another, ship to shore communications, and ship to ship communications. In addition to these factors, the incorporation of free space optics in 3G and 4G networks is triggering the market growth. Furthermore, quicker time to market and reduced costs associated with free space optics technology is boosting the market growth. The conjoint effect of all these drivers is thus set to bolster the growth of the global free space optics (FSO) communication market during the forecast period.

 

Free Space Optics (FSO) Market: By Region

As per the geographical analysis, the free space optics (FSO) market can be classified into North America (the United States, Canada, and Mexico), Asia Pacific (India, China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Rest of Asia Pacific), Europe (Germany, United Kingdom, Italy, France, Spain, Netherlands, and Rest of Europe), Middle East & Africa (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Rest of the Middle East & Africa) and Central & South America (Brazil, Argentina, and Rest of Central and South America).

North America (the United States, Canada, and Mexico) will have a dominant share in the free space optics (FSO) market from 2022 to 2027.  In North America, free space optics (FSO) is widely used in the aerospace and defense industries. The presence of existing research facilities in Western Europe and Eastern Europe is likely to help the free space industry flourish growth in this region.

Moreover, the Asia-Pacific region is expected to be the fastest-growing segment in the free space optics (FSO) market during the forecast period. The region’s growing population, rising acceptance of sophisticated technologies and IoT, increased R&D expenditure, and early adoption of innovative and sophisticated technology. Furthermore, continuing connectivity facilitation and renovations along with the government’s rising investments are fuelling market expansion.

 

Rapid technological advancements in this region and increasing innovation in the communication & technology sector in India and China are supporting the market growth. Moreover, the collaboration of federal space entities, such as National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) and European Space Agency (ESA), as an expansion of the space communication network is likely to propel the growth of the FSO communication market.

 

Players operating in the free space optics communication market include Lightpointe Communications, Inc., FSONA Networks Corp., Plaintree Systems Inc., Wireless Excellence Ltd., Trimble Hungary Kft., Koninklijke Philips N.V., General Electric Co., Bytelight, Inc. (AAcuity Brand’s Company), ADVA Optical Networking SE and Panasonic Corp. Anova Technologies, General Electronics, Fujitsu Ltd., Harris Corporation, Wireless Excellence Ltd., Lightbee Corp., Trimble Hungary, and Outstanding Technology among others are the major players in the free space optics (FSO) market.

 

Conclusion

As we continue to push the boundaries of communication, Laser Free Space Optical technology emerges as a beacon of hope for fast, secure, and efficient data transfer. From Mars missions to remote terrestrial locations, FSO technology is reshaping how we connect and collaborate, ushering in a new era of connectivity and possibilities. Whether it’s bridging the digital divide, advancing space exploration, or providing disaster recovery solutions, the future is undoubtedly illuminated by the brilliance of Laser FSO communication.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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References and Resources also include:

https://www.jhuapl.edu/PressRelease/170824b

https://www.ga.com/ga-asi-demonstrates-air-to-air-laser-communications

 

 

 

About Rajesh Uppal

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