European boffins have succeeded in establishing a laser link between a satellite and a moving aircraft for the first time.
The European Space Agency's Advanced Relay and Technology Mission Satellite (Artemis) successfully relayed optical laser links from an aircraft in early December.
Airborne laser links were established over a distance of 40,000km during two flights at altitudes of 6,000 and 10,000 metres, representing a world first, according to the scientists.
The researchers described the feat as being equivalent to targeting a golf ball over the distance between Paris and Brussels.
The tests were made by Astrium SAS (France) as part of the airborne laser optical link programme conducted by the French MoD procurement agency from its Flight Test Centre at Istres in the south of France.
The ESA ground station of Redu in Belgium also contributed to the effort by managing elements of the Artemis payload operations.
This clearly demonstrates the feasibility of an optical link between an airborne carrier and a geostationary satellite, the researchers believe.
Optical technology has several advantages for data relay applications, including the ability to provide high data rates with low mass, low power terminals, and secure, interference-free communications.
Artemis made a world first in November 2001 by establishing a laser link with the French Earth Observation SPOT-4 satellite. Imaging data was sent by SPOT-4 using a laser beam as signal carrier to Artemis and from there by radio waves to the ground.
More recently, Artemis has been relaying optical signals from the Japanese KIRARI Optical Intersatellite Communications Engineering Test Satellite since November 2005.
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