Laser Communication Made Practical:  LEO Comm™

Now the trusted and proven leader in delivering unique optical surveillance capabilities for space domain awareness (SDA), DFM Engineering’s in-house design and development expertise has created the world’s most feasible commercial optical communications ground station.

You can see our LEO Scope™, the gimbal for our LEO Comm™, track MEO, and LEO satellites in our product video.

Built upon industry proven technology coupled with DFM's patent-pending optical design, our cost-effective optical communication terminals enable moving large amounts of secure data over long distances at the speed of light. Our LEO Comm™ constructs the data highways necessary to eliminate existing barriers of connectivity. 

Currently, the entire Optical Ground Station (OGS) or Optical Communication Terminal (OCT) marketplace is in the prototype phase. DFM Engineering is entering an exciting new phase bringing our technology to market with our partners and customers.  
DFM Engineering is implementing optical communication as a key enabler of our commercial business model going forward. 

Globally, the need for fast, secure and ubiquitous network connectivity is advancing exponentially. The size of the Internet doubles about every 2 years with over 20 billion devices connected and 5 trillion gigabytes of data being transferred every day.  As new technologies are developed, more and more people are connected to the internet. This means more data is being transferred, more services are being offered, and more servers are being added to support this ever-expanding network.

Current data networks are now largely based on infrastructure on the ground whose expansion is limited by legal, economic, and logistical reasons. This calls for future expansion of the existing network infrastructure into space. While use of Radio Frequency (RF) for bandwidth transmission has expanded enormously in the past decade, RF suffers from limited capacity and its spectrum is becoming increasingly crowded and expensive. While radio waves range in length from a fraction of a meter to 10 kilometers, light wavelengths are measured in nanometers. This concentrated beam means light has a vastly greater capacity to carry information. Fiber optics already take advantage of this characteristic using glass threads with lasers. It has now become possible to expand that technology and move photons through free space without the fiber.  Enter Free-Space Optical (FSO) communication, a technology that uses photons moving in free space to wirelessly transmit optically encoded digital data. 

While optical communication has already seen significant use in interlinks between satellites, the development of ground-based systems for two-way communication between Earth and orbit using FSO is only now seeing real deployment. Laser FSO Communications (FSOC) is now widely considered as the emerging backbone and the optical fiber equivalent for connecting the terrestrial network infrastructure to space-based communication networks.

Not only is laser FSOC blazingly fast, its utilization allows ultra-secure communication with low probability of detection or interception – a major problem for hospitals, banks, and others handling vast amounts of sensitive information. These entities are constantly sharing information between branch locations, and every access, transfer, and switch point on current Internet networks presents an opportunity for hackers to intercept or corrupt it.

To date, significant technical limitations have dampened FSOC adoption. When optical signals cross atmospheric turbulence, many issues disturb the signal, resulting in beam wander, defocus, and scintillation, preventing the beam from being tightly focused on the detector. It is critical to mitigate these effects with various solutions to minimize retransmission or prevent complete signal loss. 

Current industry architectures to mitigate atmospheric turbulence are based on dynamical systems (e.g., fast-steering mirrors, wave front sensors, and deformable mirrors) that have seen strong acceleration in technological advances in the past five years. These electro-optical systems provide reaction times to pointing changes and vibrations on the millisecond time scale in order to compensate for the effects of atmospheric distortion, significantly faster than for mechanical systems. Unfortunately, these complex systems often have extensive and ongoing maintenance costs. These expenses may be inconsequential for a single Optical Ground Station (OGS). However, to mitigate meteorological disturbances, a widely dispersed OGS network with multiple downlink opportunities is necessary. This demands tight controls on maintenance to minimize operating expenses to enable practical laser communication. 

Driven by innovation, accuracy, and performance, DFM Engineering has invented a unique patent-pending solution for optical atmospheric turbulence mitigation that eliminates the need for adaptive optics, greatly reducing both initial costs, and the extensive and ongoing maintenance requirements.  Even better, this solution is a simple add-on to our commercially available LEO Scope™.  As the world leader in astronomical instrumentation for over 40 years, our engineering team has learned how to ensure reliability, with uptime measured in decades, not weeks or months. With proven tracking and pointing algorithms for imaging, tracking, and laser beam delivery refined over decades advancing the performance and affordability in meter-class telescopes, DFM has extensive technical capabilities superior to most large industry prime contractors - provided at lower cost. 
Our laser communications products are on track for a significant production ramp up this year.