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A team of engineers from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), in Laurel, Maryland, has successfully demonstrated a high-bandwidth, free-space optical (FSO) communications system between two moving ships, proving operational utility of FSO technology in the maritime environment.
Juan Juarez, the technical lead for the team developing the technology, said APL is the first organization to successfully operate such a high-capacity optical communications capability—up to 10 gigabits per second—on the move, on board ships at sea, and in challenging near-shore environments.
Bandwidths - Orders - Magnitude - Radio - Frequency
"We demonstrated bandwidths that were several orders of magnitude higher than all current radio frequency [RF] communications capability on Navy vessels, and at longer ranges than previously demonstrated FSO technology for maritime applications," Juarez said. "This is the equivalent to having up to 2,000 users simultaneously watching high-definition video streams across the optical link."
The Lab demonstrated its latest compact form factor system at the 2017 Trident Warrior Exercise, an annual event where sailors try out the newest innovations in naval warfare systems and provide feedback on those systems to commanders and developers.
Navy - Ships - Systems - Navy - Means
Navy ships typically use RF systems to communicate—but the Navy also looks for alternative means of communication in case, for technical, operational or environmental reasons, radio transmission isn't available. "Naval platforms increasingly need to operate effectively in reduced-RF or emission control conditions while maintaining their tactical advantage and situational awareness," noted Juarez.
Free-space optical communication systems—which make use of wireless transmission to deliver optical data signals at high bit rates—offer a compelling adjunct communications capability to conventional RF and microwave communications by providing secure high data rates outside the conventional RF spectrum.
FSO - Systems - Defense - Needs - Juarez
Commercial FSO systems exist but typically don't address defense needs, Juarez said, "specifically in terms of system mobility, link range, and data rate while operating in the highly scintillated terrestrial environment, especially close to the water." FSO demonstration...
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