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Laser Light Optical Satellite Test Facility Nears Completion

By Caleb Henry | July 7, 2014
      Laser Light Optics SpaceCable

      Senior Managing Director of Laser Light, Robert Brumley. Photo: Laser Light

      [Via Satellite 07-02-2014] Laser Light Communications, a company focused on becoming the first Optical Satellite Service (OSS) provider, is close to opening a major facility called the High Articulation Laser Optics (HALO) Center. The advanced facility will test laser communications for a high-data hybrid satellite-terrestrial system, showing the waveform, the impact of atmospheric behavior, and measuring latency with an optical system. The HALO Center, located in Reston Va., will also serve as a demonstration facility for vendors, customers, regulators and investors.

      “The HALO Center allows viewers to watch how much traffic is being sent over SpaceCable compared to ground cable, and see how it fluctuates with real-time weather,” Robert Brumley, senior managing director of Laser Light told Via Satellite. “Part of the plan was to get that designed, which we did last year, and get it funded, which we announced in April, and then get it opened, which is going to be in about six months, and start operating what we think will be the first 2014 [FCC licensed] hybrid laser-optic, fiber-optic PoP, operating at 100 GBs that is actually available for commercial service.”

      Laser Light’s hybrid network is broken into two elements: an OSS part and the Ground Network System (GNS). The OSS half is comprised of a constellation of Medium Earth Orbiting (MEO) satellites. The satellites beam down data to a Ground Network System, which then connects to terrestrial fiber infrastructure such as Network Operation Centers (NOCs), Satellite Operation Centers and POPs.

      Optical waveforms are highly efficient, but are very sensitive to atmospheric behavior. This contributed to the undoing of Terrabeam, a company that attempted to replace fiber links between buildings with optics, but without alternative or “diverse” pathways for when atmospheric interference attenuated the signals. Laser Light is seeking to overcome this hurdle by using multiple ground backups, creating a meshed network that satellites can communicate with to direct traffic to desired locations around the weather.

      “We haven’t repealed the laws of physics here. Atmospherics still exist. Our plan, however, is to avoid the weather by relying on diverse routing and diverse pathways to get to the end destination if it happens to be weather impacted,” said Brumley. “If you are going to Hong Kong, for example, and the node in Hong Kong is weather impacted, our design plan is that the system would reroute it dynamically. Without human involvement it would ‘real-time’ sense that node was going to go out due to atmospherics, and it would reroute the traffic off of the satellite to, say, Guam, and Guam would bring it in on fiber. We will have last mile tail circuits, or network extension services, as part of our terrestrial network architecture.”

      Brumley said the company is looking into selecting vendors for the upcoming service. Laser Light worked with 24 different companies and prequalified several that have space-based optics experience from the Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT) program in the U.S., or through European Space Agency (ESA) aircraft-to-ground programs. Laser Light also recently partnered with the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). While no funding is being provided, the company will share technical developments, system characteristics and other information with the agency to show the evolution of its services to the government.

      “The next steps are really what I would call traditional satellite roll-out milestones. We pick our vendors and raise our capital … between now and 2017 it’s pretty basic stuff: we procure our initial satellite system — eight MEOs — [then] design and commence location and production of the GNS to ensure the global network will be available on or prior to satellite deployment,” said Brumley.

      The business model being implemented calls for a minimum of 65 percent of traffic traveling over the recently trademarked ‘SpaceCable’ and 35 percent or less over terrestrial. Though satellite plays a critical role in Laser Light’s system, Brumley said the company should be thought of more as a fiber optic network.

      “There are three types of terrestrial fiber networks that the regulators look at: undersea cable, buried cable and aerial cable, but now we have introduced a new concept called SpaceCable. Ironically, a lot of the things that identify those other cable systems apply to us — the products we are selling, service expectations — the only difference is the environmental medium (water, earth, air, space) they have to travel through. We are in a different medium, but I think the rest of what defines traditional cable operations and licensing is essentially the same, he said.

      Laser Light is building backwards from global standards as opposed to introducing a new Internet Protocol (IP) standard. According to Brumley, this eliminates the need for chipsets, middleware and inter-connective software. With enormous potential benefits in speed, security and data volume, Brumley said he would not be surprised to see geostationary satellites with laser-optic payloads in the near future. Just recently, Thales Alenia Space announced it is collaborating with several other European Union (EU) based companies on a satellite optics project called the High Power Photonics for Satellite Communications and On-Board Optical Signal Processing (HIPPO).

      “The efficiency of optical wave in being able to carry large amounts of data, as well as the secure aspect of being in an optical waveform, in terms of transmission — it’s free from jamming and most forms of interference — when you bundle those together, you have a unique product to offer,” said Brumley.