MLT-70 IPL laser terminal by VLC for inter-platform connections
However, there are numerous places in the world that are not connected to any cable network, or whose connection does not permit high data communication rates, or where no funds are available for connecting to or upgrading the cable network. In these places, people rely on wireless connections in the form of conventional radio technologies. However, increasing data volumes push these radio connections to their limits, and transmission capacities are unlikely to cope with any further dynamic growth of data traffic.
DLR's scientists began to tackle this problem around two decades ago, when they set out to develop a next-generation system of wireless data transmission, and to validate it in scientific missions – data communication by laser. As a result, mankind is now on the brink of another technology revolution, comparable to the introduction of the PC, the internet, or the smartphone. Today, 100 times more data may be communicated across thousands of kilometres by laser than by radio. And that is only the beginning. Having overcome the initial barrier, we are now able to make enormous, exponentially growing volumes of data available worldwide through wireless systems, providing extremely high data rates to many remote locations worldwide where high-rate data links by wire would not be cost-effective.
In the future, laser-based constellations consisting of stratospheric aircraft and balloons at altitudes of around 20km, satellite-based constellations in near-Earth orbits at altitudes of around 1000km, and existing geostationary satellites nearly 40.000km up will all merge into a globe-spanning system. Leading US technology corporations have identified this opportunity as one of the big markets of the future and are now investing massively in this new communication option. In addition to its outstanding performance, laser communication cannot be tapped or jammed, thus nullifying possible threats from that direction.
Having recognised the significance of this technology, ViaLight Communications based in Gilching near Munich has developed laser communication products featuring data rates of up to 10Gb/s (gigabits per second). A key player on the market, the company now sells its products worldwide through the German ViaLight Communications GmbH and its recently-established US subsidiary, ViaLight Communications Space, Inc., domiciled in Huntsville, Alabama. At present, ViaLight is working on a new generation of laser terminals for connecting the satellite constellations that are currently being put in place. The key features along which ViaLight is developing its terminals include low weight (<10kg), minimum electrical power draw (<50W), and competitive prices. It is only if this unique combination of criteria is met that multi-constellations of flying platforms and large numbers of satellites will ever become economically feasible.
In 2009, ViaLight was spun off from the German Aerospace Centre (DLR). In recognition of their achievements, the three founders of ViaLight, Dr Markus Knapek, Joachim Horwarth and Dr Dirk Giggenbach, have recently received the spin-off prize awarded for the first time by the Society of Friends of DLR (GvF), from the Chair of the DLR Executive Board, Prof. Dr Pascale Ehrenfreund. The prize was awarded in recognition of the founders' achievements in transferring scientific results into commercially exploitable developments – added value for the German economy, as is shown by the number of newly-created jobs. The spin-off received significant support from the DLR Institute of Communication and Navigation, DLR's Technology Marketing, and the DLR office in Washington. Today, ViaLight manufactures laser terminals for stratospheric networks as well as optical ground stations. At the same time, the firm is developing a new generation of laser terminals for linking up new satellite constellations.
Dr Wolfram Peschko, CFO (Chief Financial Officer) of ViaLight, emphasised that 'We aim to use our products to set up a widespread network of various stations and airborne carriers so as to position ViaLight as the global leader in laser communication.'
Dr Markus Knapek, co-founder and CEO of ViaLight: 'We have barely made a start today. There are enormous development potentials ahead of us. Our scientists are already experimenting with data rates exceeding present capacities by a factor of 1000. The age of information has begun, the resultant enormous data volumes will arrive, and ViaLight as specialist and world market leader for laser communication is at the centre of it all.'
ViaLight Communications GmbH
Phone: +49 8105 77705-283
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Phone: +49 8153 28-1782