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Technology and Health News > Friday, May-23-2008

Laser Communications

The transfer of data will be hundred of times faster than that by radio waves. The promise is made by the first tests conducted by a German institute.

Receiving images in Google Earth or photos of the Hubble telescope in real time may soon be reality. A German institute has experienced a communication system based on lasers which will transfer data at a rate one hundred times higher than that possible with radio waves.

The technology was developed by researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology in Aachen on the company's Tesat GmbH & Co. under a project funded by the German Aerospace Center (Dlr).

The tests were carried out on two satellites: German TerraSar-X and the U.S. Nfire. Thanks to laser technology, the data are sent, literally, between the two satellites at the speed of light, covering over five thousand kilometers to meet even without an error. The laser has made it possible to transfer, in one hour, a quantity of data equal to the information contained in 400 Dvds, and ensured a greater precision in the transmission, thanks to the simplicity of the pointing system. According to researchers, the new system will transfer a large amount of information in a shorter time and send more efficiently and in real time, for example, images of the planet shot from the satellites to ground stations, something not possible with radio waves .

Before being installed on satellites, the modules containing the laser had to overcome some target testing to verify their resistance under extreme conditions of temperature, acceleration and gamma radiation. "The module," says Martin Traub, the project coordinator, "is as big as a box of matches and weighs about 130 grams, like a bar of chocolate." To achieve this, it was necessary to choose the materials with great accuracy. The next challenge will be to dissipate the high heat that the devices produce, despite their small size.

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