New communication technology: ultra-fast optical lasers

A team of researchers from Western Australia have found a way to avoid having to use radio transmitters in critical communications, using new technology including ultra-fast optical lasers.

The researchers, from the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), have been working on the project for two years, with their findings published in the journal Nature Science Reports.

Although optical communications have been in use since the 1980s, government and industry have continued to rely on radio transmission technology in settings such as satellite communications due to atmospheric turbulence. Atmospheric turbulence causes the laser beams to drift away from their target.

Although there have been advancements in the use of optical wireless communication in recent years, this WA discovery solves the problem of turbulence, using a very fast steering mirror that can correct turbulence at a rate of hundreds of times per second.

This means that superior optical wireless transmission can be used in more settings, reducing the need to depend on slower radio transmission.

Lead researcher Dr Shane Walsh explains how his team found a way to use optical communications to lock onto a fast-moving target in a turbulent environment, with an uninterrupted high-speed signal.

“It is the culmination of more than two years of research and testing and takes ground-to-space communications from what was effectively ‘switched’ speed through turbulence to ‘broadband’ speed. .

“I’m proud that our team of WA researchers was able to contribute to this critical communication puzzle, combining existing research with our team’s specialist expertise,” he said.

The team’s discovery was put to the test using a drone, which simulates a fast-moving target. As a next step, the researchers plan to test the technology with higher-altitude aircraft, and ultimately spacecraft, in low Earth orbit.

Researchers are currently developing a purpose-built optical communications ground station in Washington that, when completed, will allow them to further develop and commercialize the technology. It is expected to be used by industry and government alike, in applications as diverse as spacecraft communications, meteorology, defense and disaster management.

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Material provided by International Center for Research in Radio Astronomy. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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