Collin Arocho
8 April 2021

The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) and Airbus have announced a new partnership. The duo has announced the launching of a new joint program called UltraAir, to build a demonstration model of a laser communication terminal for aircraft. The project is co-funded by Airbus, TNO and the Netherlands Space Office (NSO) and is being conducted under ESA’s Secure and Laser Communication Technology (Scylight) program. First testing is slated to start by the end of the year, with final validation expected in 2022.

TNO Airbus
The UltraAir project develops core technologies that enable laser communication between aircraft and satellites (bold red line). This is an essential component that will enable military aircraft in the future to connect to a battle cloud (interconnected platforms and combat systems for land, sea and air warfare), and fast and secure internet connection for passenger aircraft. Credit: TNO

The envisioned UltraAir terminal will enable laser links to be established between aircraft and satellites orbiting Earth in geostationary orbit at a distance of 36,000 kilometers. This will involve the use of advanced technology with a highly accurate and stable optomechatronic system. The technology demonstration model paves the way for a future UltraAir product, which can achieve data rates of gigabits per second while avoiding interference and minimizing the risk of interceptions. As such, UltraAir not only contributes to military aircraft being able to connect to a combat cloud but in the longer term, airline passengers can use Airbus’ space data highway network via high-speed data connections.

“We’re delighted to be working with Airbus again to enable secure broadband connectivity that will support the growing demand for data and higher levels of security,” says Kees Buijsrogge, TNO’s Director of Aerospace & Scientific Instrumentation. “At TNO, we also help drive economic growth in the Netherlands and Europe by enabling companies to realize new products, generate new business and improve their competitive position. Helping to realize this product for the Airbus group and positioning the Dutch high-tech ecosystem for its serial production fits exactly into our strategy.”