FSO systems present many advantages like high data rate, license-free bandwidth and tap-proof communication allowing the download of vast amounts of data from LEO satellites. However, the atmospheric channel is quite challenging, because of spurious effects such as absorption, scattering and scintillation that in turn vary the link losses in correspondence to the elevation. In order to maximize the downlink throughput, it should start around 5° elevation. This leads to a design with suboptimal performance for higher elevations when constant data rates are used. Therefore, DLR is developing a system to adjust the data rate according to elevation and atmospheric channel conditions. This data rate variation is achieved by determining the maximum rate for higher elevation and then for lowering the data rates a bit-level repetition is performed. The presented system enables a fast transition between the different data rates. Additionally, this system allows the satellite to transmit data at rates even lower than those nominally supported by the physical transceiver. At the receiver side, the system complexity increases as it should be able to acquire, detect, and filter the signal for different data rates. DLR proposes a system that mirrors the operation of its transmitter counterpart by sampling the acquired signal at the maximum data rate. Then an FPGA processes the signal by majority decision algorithm followed by voting system that filters and detects the intended data rate in real-time. This enables replication and parallelization of the filtering and detection processes enabling the automatic detection of the received data rate. In order to provide noise stability, the transition between data rates is governed by a hysteresis process. This scheme allows the detection and selection of the proper data rate in the range of few microseconds for a system operating between 10 Gbps and 1.25 Gbps in steps of factor of 2, ignoring the propagation delays.
The generated amount of data on high flying platforms like aircrafts, satellites and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) increases continuously, due to the technical improvement of modern sensor systems. The resulting demands for higher data rates on airborne and space platforms motivates the development of Laser Communication terminals for aircrafts and satellites in the last years. DLR’s Institute of Communications and Navigation has a successful track record in developing Free Space Optical (FSO) terminals for flying platforms like stratospheric balloons, aircrafts and small satellites to transfer data from moving platforms down to earth in real-time. Beside the advantages of FSO such as high data rates and a secure transfer channel against Radio Frequency (RF) interferences, a direct line of sight is mandatory for a successful link. Traditional RF-Communication is more robust and less effected by atmospheric disturbances or weather conditions. Thus, new system concepts have been developed to benefit from the provided high data rates of the FSO and the reliability of RF-Communication technologies. As part of this trend, DLR has developed and demonstrated a Hybrid FSO/RF-communication system capable of overcoming the spurious effects of the atmosphere. This paper gives an overview about DLR’s current studies and developments with the goal to combine the advantages of FSO and RF-Communication. It discusses possible implementation concepts on different platforms and presents experimental results of the implemented FSO/RF hybrid communication system operating for airborne, optical downlinks at 1Gbps.
Robotic operations in space with telepresence systems require high data rates for sensor and video feedback in combination with very low delays for precise and transparent control. The ESA funded project HiCLASS-ROS (Highly Compact Laser Communication Systems for Robotic Operations Support) demonstrated the use of optical communication links for symmetrical and bi-directional high data rate links in combination with lowlatency channel coding for very low round trip times comparable to a LEO scenario.
The German Aerospace Center’s Institute of Communications and Navigation developed the Free Space Experimental Laser Terminal II and has been using it for optical downlink experiments since 2008. It has been developed for DLR’s Dornier 228 aircraft and is capable of performing optical downlink as well as inter-platform experiments. After more than 5 years of successful operation, it has been refurbished with up-to-date hardware and is now available for further aircraft-experiments. The system is a valuable resource for carrying out measurements of the atmospheric channel, for testing new developments, and of course to transmit data from the aircraft to a ground station with a very high data rate. This paper will give an overview about the system and describe the capabilities of the flexible platform. The current status of the system will be described and measurement results of a recent flight campaign will be presented. Finally, an outlook to future use of the system will be given.
Free-space optical (FSO) communication is a very attractive technology offering very high throughput without spectral regulation constraints, yet allowing small antennas (telescopes) and tap-proof communication. However, the transmitted signal has to travel through the atmosphere where it gets influenced by atmospheric turbulence, causing scintillation of the received signal. In addition, climatic effects like fogs, clouds and rain also affect the signal significantly. Moreover, FSO being a line of sight communication requires precise pointing and tracking of the telescopes, which otherwise also causes fading. To achieve error-free transmission, various mitigation techniques like aperture averaging, adaptive optics, transmitter diversity, sophisticated coding and modulation schemes are being investigated and implemented. Evaluating the performance of such systems under controlled conditions is very difficult in field trials since the atmospheric situation constantly changes, and the target scenario (e.g. on aircraft or satellites) is not easily accessible for test purposes. Therefore, with the motivation to be able to test and verify a system under laboratory conditions, DLR has developed a fading testbed that can emulate most realistic channel conditions. The main principle of the fading testbed is to control the input current of a variable optical attenuator such that it attenuates the incoming signal according to the loaded power vector. The sampling frequency and mean power of the vector can be optionally changed according to requirements. This paper provides a brief introduction to software and hardware development of the fading testbed and measurement results showing its accuracy and application scenarios.