27 Feb 2024
Research Update

SmartSat and University of Western Australia demonstrate Optical Communications to Defence

27 Feb 2024

The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research at the University of Western Australia (UWA) and SmartSat CRC were pleased to recently host the Department of Defence at a demonstration of the Coherent Free-Space Optical Communications project.

The visiting party, led by Director General for Navy Intelligence and Information Warfare, Commodore (CDRE) Matt Doornbos, comprised representatives from the Royal Australian Airforce, Australian Army, Defence Science and Technology Group and Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group.

The full delegation to the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research at the University of Western Australia (UWA).

The visit included a series of briefings on the SmartSat, free-space optical communications, the potential role it could play in future capabilities and an exploration of the potential next steps to continue the development of this ground-breaking technology.

The highlight was a live demonstration of the optical link from the roof of the UWA physics building. The demonstration involved three different remote targets, two were mobile and one was fixed. All used what is known as a “folded path” where the remote node reflected the optical communications bearer to effective double the length of the transmission path through the atmosphere. The most challenging was a 3 km folded path to a water vessel, provided and operated by a WA-based Australian Army Unit.

Short Wave Infra-Red (SWIR) camera view of the maritime remote terminal operating on the Swan River.

The demonstration also showed how the system could acquire, track, and sustain an optical link to an airborne platform, in this case a drone that was flying a variable vertical track. The final demonstration was to a stationary land-based vehicle located on campus.

All of these demonstrations worked flawlessly and showcased the incredible communications performance available, with all links demonstrating data rates of 50 to 100 Gbps with the simulated data transfer capable of successfully sending terabytes of data during the short demonstration phase.

CDRE Doornbos expressed an ongoing interest from the Navy in optical communications. The Navy have tried a number of systems over the years, but none had been successful. He was impressed by the work being undertaken within the project and encouraged UWA and SmartSat to continue refining this approach with a view to developing a system capable of point-to-point optical communications.

CMDR Blamiris, Director for Navy Command, Control and Communications noted that it was much more effective to demonstrate what is possible, not just discuss it.
Associate Professor, Dr Sascha Schediwy thanked his research team for all the effort they put into conducting the demonstration and their contribution to the research over the past three and a half years. The demonstration was a fantastic way to showcase the world-leading research being done by the team.

Project team members (back L-R) Nicolas Maron, David Gozzard, Dr Sascha Schediwy, Shane Walsh, Ayden McCann, Alex Frost (front left) and Skevos Karpathakis (front right).

SmartSat CEO, Professor Andy Koronios, said the project is a testament to the power of collaborative research. He reiterated that this project is just one example of how SmartSat is supporting the technology developed through its many research projects to evolve to meet the needs of defence and industry.

SmartSat Coordinator Defence and National Security, Peter Kerr, commented that this visit highlighted the strong interest end-users in Defence have in the development of emerging and disruptive technologies such as free-space optical communications systems. This technology is on the cusp of being able to support operational capabilities and SmartSat is proud of the role it plays, alongside with our partners, in identifying and mitigating technical risks through our collaborative research program.

Peter Kerr
Coordinator Defence & National Security