More drones, satellites, and aircraft continue to fill the air space while they transmit data from the air to people on the ground. Advanced cameras and sensors gather information that is used for disaster relief efforts, traffic monitoring, military missions, delivering packages, or monitoring the location and condition of the aircraft themselves. Typically, this data is sent using radio frequency (RF) transmission methods, which work well, but have two big drawbacks: limited bandwidth and vulnerability to jamming. Optical communications systems could provide an alternative way to keep up with this increased demand for data transfer from the sky. Light-based systems are faster and more secure than RF-based systems. A team of researchers in the United Kingdom just successfully tested a system called HYPERION, which uses lasers to track aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and satellites.
HYPERION has the potential to enable extremely lightweight, low-power data terminals for UAVs, allowing flight-time to be extended, or smaller aircraft with enhanced capabilities.
From the ground, a laser aims at a target aircraft, which is equipped with a special reflector that captures the beam, modifies it with data, and sends the beam back to a base sta ommution where it can be decoded to unlock the data it carries. HYPERION was developed by researchers at the University of Oxford, with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and Airbus Group Innovations, with support from a government agency called Innovate UK support. Right now, the system only works at a one kilometer range, but now that the researchers have proved the concept works, they are working to extend the range.