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Research Continues on Secure, Mobile, Quantum Communications

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mobile optical communications

The Air Force Research Laboratory is evaluating the performance of high-altitude, air-to-ground, quantum communications links.

Credit: Brian Rhea / AOptix Technologies

Air Force Research Laboratory researcher David H. Hughes is using an optical laser link to create secure quantum communication capabilities for military use. The system uses adaptive optics to transmit high data-rate video and audio signals over long distances.

Until now, using free-space optical links, which use fiber optics for transmissions, has been plagued by turbulence or distortions caused by temperature differences that create motion or wind in the atmosphere. "When you transmit information through turbulence it's distorted, just like the information coming from the light reflected off a distant, twinkling star to your eye. It's fuzzy," Hughes says. "You have to overcome that by using adaptive optics to rectify the distortion and get a better quality signal."

Hughes and his team have developed an optical link free of distortion in test situations at a distance of 35 kilometers, in both flight and stationary scenarios. Upcoming test flights will increase altitudes to demonstrate air-to-ground distances. "If we can now put one link on the ground and one on a demo aircraft, it wouldn't take much to apply the technology to operational aircraft for the Air Force," says Hughes.

From Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
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