Air-To-Space Laser UAV Communication System Tested

By Mike Ball / 25 Feb 2020
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MQ-9 Reaper UAV

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) has announced that it has successfully ground tested its Airborne Laser Communication System (ALCoS), which has been designed for use with the company’s Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The test was performed in conjunction with space-based laser communications specialist Tesat-Spacecom (TESAT), using their LCT 135 GEO Laser Communication Terminal to establish a link with a satellite in geo-synchronous Earth orbit.

The ALCoS was tested from an optical observatory located on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The test successfully demonstrated acquisition and tracking, with sufficient power to close the link with the LCT 135. The flight system that will allow GA-ASI’s MQ-9 UAV to use the communications system is curently under development.

ALCoS is the result of a five-year, GA-ASI-funded effort to deliver a Low Probability of Intercept (LPI), Low Probability of Detect (LPD) communications link to the MQ-9. With 300 times the data carrying capacity of conventional RF SATCOM systems, ALCOS will be able to operate as a gateway to the Joint Aerial Network for forward-deployed forces.

The system can operate on two optical wavelengths, 1064nm and 1550nm. TESAT’s LCT 135 terminals are currently in use on seven satellites in orbit. These LCTs make over 60 satellite-to-satellite links over a distance of 45,000 km per day and have logged over 30,000 links total, proving the commercial viability of laser satellite communications.

Linden Blue, CEO of GA-ASI, commented: “This test was a critical step towards enabling our aircraft with a high-bandwidth communication system that cannot be jammed or detected by an adversary. ALCoS allows a new generation of high-performance sensors by breaking the data bottleneck of current RF SATCOM technology.”

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Posted by Mike Ball Mike Ball is our resident technical editor here at Unmanned Systems Technology. Combining his passion for teaching, advanced engineering and all things unmanned, Mike keeps a watchful eye over everything related to the unmanned technical sector. With over 10 years’ experience in the unmanned field and a degree in engineering, Mike’s been heading up our technical team here for the last 8 years. Connect & Contact
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