Airbus and VDL Group have signed a partnership agreement for the development and manufacturing of a laser communication terminal for aircraft, known as UltraAir.
Based on the development led by Airbus and the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), the two companies will now prepare a demonstration of a prototype and a first flight test in 2024.
As of 2024, Airbus and VDL Group – a Dutch high-tech industrial supplier – will further industrialise the prototype in order to make it ready for integration with a hosting aircraft. VDL brings design for production to the partnership and will manufacture critical systems. A flight test of this industrialised prototype is planned in 2025 on an aircraft.
UltraAir 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 the Earth. With unparalleled technology including a highly stable and precise optical mechatronic system, this laser terminal will pave the way for data transmission rates that could reach several gigabits-per-second while providing anti-jamming and low probability of interception.
In this way, UltraAir will allow military aircraft and UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to connect within a multi-domain combat cloud thanks to laser-based satellite constellations such as Airbus’ SpaceDataHighway. This is a key milestone in the roadmap of Airbus’ overall strategy to drive laser communications further, which will bring forward the benefits of this technology as a key differentiator for providing multi-domain combat collaboration for government and defence customers. In the longer term, UltraAir could also be implemented on commercial aircraft to allow airline passengers to establish high-speed data connections.
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