A team of Western Australian researchers has found a way to avoid the use of radio transmitters in critical communications using a new technique with ultrafast optical lasers.
Researchers from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) have been working on the project for two years and their findings are published in the journal natural science reports.
Although optical communications have been used since the 1980s, governments and industry continue to rely on radio transmission technology in environments such as satellite communications due to atmospheric turbulence. Atmospheric turbulence causes the laser beam to deviate from its intended target.
Despite recent advances in the use of optical wireless communications, this WA discovery addresses the turbulence problem by using a very fast turning mirror that can correct for turbulence hundreds of times per second.
This means superior optical wireless transmissions can be used in more environments, reducing reliance on slower radio transmissions.
Lead researcher Dr Shane Walsh explains how his team found a way to use optical communications to lock onto fast-moving targets with uninterrupted high-speed signals in turbulent environments.
“This is the culmination of more than two years of research and testing, taking ground-to-space communications from effective ‘dial-up’ speeds in turbulence to ultra-fast ‘broadband’ speeds.
“I am proud that our WA research team has been able to contribute to this critical communication challenge, combining existing research with our team’s expertise,” he said.
The team’s discovery was made using a drone that simulated a fast-moving target. As a next step, the researchers plan to test the technology with higher-altitude aircraft and eventual spacecraft in low-Earth orbit.
Researchers are now developing a purpose-built optical communications ground station in Western Australia, which when completed will allow them to further develop and commercialise the technology. It is expected to be used by sectors such as industry and government in a variety of applications including communications with spacecraft, meteorology, defense and disaster management.
Materials provided International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.