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General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA ASI) has successfully ground tested its Airborne Laser Communication System (ALCoS), by establishing a link with a satellite in Geo-synchronous Earth Orbit (GEO), the company announced on 20 February.

The test was conducted using Tesat-Spacecom’s (TESAT) GEO Laser Communication Terminal (LCT), the LCT 135. This was the first demonstration of an air-to-space lasercom system in a form factor compatible with a Medium-altitude, Long-endurance (MALE) Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA).

ALCoS was tested from an optical observatory in the Canary Islands in a closed link with the LCT terminal onboard the ALPHASAT satellite, successfully demonstrating acquisition and tracking, with sufficient power to close the link with the LCT. GA-ASI is completing development of the flight system for use on its MQ-9 RPA.

This test was a critical step towards enabling our aircraft with a high-bandwidth communication system that cannot be jammed or detected by an adversary,” commented Linden Blue, the company’s CEO. “ALCoS allows a new generation of high-performance sensors by breaking the data bottleneck of current RF SATCOM technology.”

ALCoS is the result of a five-year, company-funded effort to deliver Low Probability of Intercept (LPI), Low Probability of Detect (LPD) communications link to the MQ-9. With 300 times the data-carrying capacity of conventional RF SATCOM systems, ALCoS will be able to operate as a gateway to the Joint Aerial Network for forward-deployed forces.

The system has the capability to work in two optical wavelengths, 1,064 and 1,550nm. TESAT brings more than 12 years’ experience with deployed lasercom systems for space and has LCT 135 terminals currently in use on seven satellites. These LCTs make over 60 satellite-to-satellite links over a distance of 45,000 km per day and have logged over 30,000 links in total. TESAT has proven the commercial viability of laser satellite communications.

The MQ-9 REAPER (the pictured example is in Italian Air Force service) may shortly be available with reliable, proven air-to-space communications systems, following the success of recent tests. (Photo: GA-ASI)

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