The European Space Agency has claimed that in-flight Internet access for airline passengers may be provided via laser systems as early as the middle of next year.
The “UltraAir” concept stems from a collaboration between the satellite manufacturer “Airbus” and the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research.
Laser-based technology could replace current satellite radio frequency systems, whose bands are experiencing bottlenecks as demand for satellite services grows.
Ground tests of the system are expected to begin later this year in Germany, with the first on-board test, connected to the ground, and work is expected to begin in early 2022.
Ultimately, UltraAir will be able to reach data rates of several gigabits per second and it will be nearly impossible to jam or intercept.
This also makes the system good for military applications, such as transmitting data collected by drones and connecting aircraft systems to form an “air combat cloud”.
The narrow beam of laser communication that makes it difficult to intercept also means that terminals can be lighter and consume less energy than radio.
UltraAir will also form part of the European Space Agency (ESA) “ScyLight” program, which is developing secure communications and laser technologies.
A spokesman for the European Space Agency said in a press release that optical communication technologies, which use lasers, offer unprecedented transmission rates, data security and flexibility, and are set to revolutionize satellite communications.
“It is very difficult to intercept optical communication because, compared to radio frequencies, it uses much narrower beams. The laser communication end viewer will be designed, built and tested under laboratory conditions by the end of 2021,” the spokesperson explained.
He continued: “Early next year, the UltraAir system will be installed at the European Space Agency’s optical ground station in Tenerife for testing by establishing a communication link with the laser station on board the Alphasat communication satellite in orbit.”
If this proves successful, the final step in mid-2022 will see the system put on board and put into operation mid-flight.
An UltraAir spokesman said military aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles would enable communication within a combat cloud.
In addition: “The technology will allow airlines to establish high-speed data communications thanks to Airbus’s SpaceDataHighway system.”
SpaceDataHighway is a development of the European Data Relay System for geostationary satellites.
This system is currently being used to transfer data collected by monitoring satellites back to Earth in almost real time, a process that usually takes several hours.
However, the UltraAir system may soon see the platform being reused for commercial and military aviation purposes.
Source: Daily Mail