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Northrop Grumman Corp. has been selected by the US Air Force to design, build and demonstrate a prototype optical aperture system that will enable laser communications between aircraft and space-base platforms. The Airborne Lasercom Terminal — Optical Aperture technology demonstration will mature technology prior to a separately awarded terminal development effort. The future laser communication terminal will provide more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data to the user at much higher speeds than currently achievable with radio-frequency systems. “Northrop Grumman’s design approach will provide greater communication capability between existing military platforms and space assets,” said Taylor W. Lawrence, vice-president and general manager of the company’s Systems Development and Technology Division. “In addition to increasing the amount of bandwidth over current radio-frequency systems, this technology has the potential to reduce size, weight and power requirements and to do so at a lower cost. As the industry continues to move toward more interoperability and network-centric systems, laser applications provide a key technology for airborne reconnaissance missions using a layered architecture involving satellites, manned and unmanned aircrafts, aerostatic vehicles and portable/fixed ground terminals,” Lawrence added. “This aperture system is a critical link between airborne lasercom terminal requirements and a number of truly transformational communications system architectures.” Northrop Grumman is one of four prime contractors chosen to mature and demonstrate aperture technologies and will lead the systems engineering and integration efforts for their team. Other teammates include OPTRA Inc., Topsfield, MA, which will provide the coarse beam steering subsystem, and AOptix Technologies Inc., Campbell, CA, which will provide the fine beam steering subsystem.
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