Let’s say you’re Matt Damon in ‘The Martian’ and you need to communicate with Earth 140 million miles away about a pressing problem (like, you’re all alone with nothing to eat), and you need to do it a little faster than the 22 minutes it can currently take via radio communications (let’s say you’re really hungry).
Or let’s say that you want to explore an asteroid even further away—like, 250 million miles—that could help explain how our planet was formed (NASA’s been asking), but you need a way to convey really big video files back to Earth.
Or closer to home, maybe you’re an astronaut aboard the International Space Station and you’re on a spacewalk to fix something really critical, and you need to get a video feed to Houston for advice on how to do this really complicated thing—and quickly, before space radiation gives you a nasty sunburn.
In the end, maybe you just need a way to communicate faster, with greater bandwidth, via our own terrestrial and satellite networks, in a world where Internet traffic is exploding with videos, text, and voluminous piles of other data, and existing spectrum is increasingly clogged and contested.
Free-space optical (FSO) communications are your best answer. In fact, Alexander Graham Bell knew this was the answer 138 years ago, when he demonstrated the invention he was most proud of (no offense, Mr. Telephone): the photophone, which basically added digital signals to beams of light.
Pretty cool, for 1880.
What’s free-space got that fiber optics don’t?
As we all know from the guys tearing up our front yards to lay cable, optical fiber requires a physical, flexible connection between two ends of the link. FSO communications basically do the same thing by sending signals through the air via laser beams.
Still a pretty cool idea, even for 2018—particularly when it comes to enabling those outer-space communications we mentioned above, as well as today’s spectrum crunch.
The biggest obstacles faced by FSO communications are signal strength (you’ve got to eat your Wheaties to push a signal 140 million miles to Mars) and signal targeting—if your algorithm is off by just a mini-micro-nano, your signal goes to Pluto instead—no help to Matt Damon.
Which is where LGS Innovations comes in. For those outer-space (and closer to home) applications where free-space optical makes sense, we’re inventing the signal amplifiers, targeting tools, and other neat stuff that Matt will one day (in 2023, to be precise) thank us for.