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  • Laser Comms for Blue Devil Surveillance Airship
    Posted by Graham Warwick 9:50 PM on Aug 04, 2011

    Looks like the US Air Force's Blue Devil 2 large surveillance airship could become the first ISR platform to be deployed operationally with a high-bandwidth laser communications system to downlink multi-gigabits of sensor data.

    A special notice issued by DARPA reveals the 350ft-long Blue Devil 2 will be equipped with optical communications terminals being produced by AOptix Technologies for DARPA's Free Space Optical Experimental Network Experiment (FOENEX) program. These terminals can transmit data at up to 10Gbps over ranges up to 200km, according to AOptix.

    blog post photo
    Graphic: MAV6

    The optionally manned Blue Devil 2 is to be deployed to Afghanistan, where it will stay aloft for up to a week at a time, carrying a 2,500lb payload of more than a dozen wide-area surveillance, full-motion video and signals-intelligence sensors, with an airborne supercomputer to enable automated cueing between sensors.

    DARPA's special notice reveals the agency is to buy three additonal FOENEX optical modems from John Hopkins University's Apllied Physics Laboratory (APL) and upgrade them to 40Gbps. These additional modems are to be delivered to the USAF's Big Safari office for the Blue Devil 2 program, to support independent test and evaluation in the fall.

    The special notice also reveals the Blue Devil 2 program bought the FOENEX optical terminals from AOptix not understanding it also needed the optical modems from APL to get robust communication performance. According to the notice the modem provides automatic gain control and forward error correction to enable error-free comms even in turbulent atmospheric conditions.

    Free-space optical communications will be integrated with lower-capacity radio-frequency links to provide a robust network capability previously demonstrated in flight under DARPA's ORCA (Optical RF Communications Adjunct) program.

    Tags: ar99, unmanned, DARPA

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