Fayetteville's Space Photonics Partners with Schott on LaserFire System for Military Use

by Mark Carter  on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012 11:01 am  

Space Photonics of Fayetteville, which develops optical communications systems for the military and aerospace industries, has partnered with Schott North America for the commercialization of its patented LaserFire systems.

The LaserFire free space optical communications systems will be marketed for military and intelligence customers, according to a news release.

Space Photonics is a Genesis Technology Incubator client at the University of Arkansas and is located at the UA's Arkansas Research & Technology Park.

According to the news release, the covert optical wireless communications technology "enables uninterrupted, secure high-capacity communications, including building-to-building, ship-to-shore, vehicle-to-vehicle and other platforms where detectable and lower capacity microwave is not effective, and where high-capacity fiber-optic cable is not available or has been damaged."

"It is exciting to see Space Photonics continue to grow and be successful," said Jim Rankin, vice provost for research and economic development at the UA. "Its success reflects well on the research and innovation capabilities at the University of Arkansas and in the state of Arkansas."

Space Photonics CEO Chuck Chalfant called Schott a world-renowned supplier and manufacturer of optical components.

"There's no other company in the world that has better expertise when it comes to optics," he said. "The partnership for us is huge. We hope to start generating sales in the next six to nine months. We thought up some cool stuff and now it works really well. We’ve found the perfect partner."

Retired U.S. Air Force Major Gen. Scott Custer, president and CEO of Schott Defense, said the partnership with Space Photonics will help protect the lives of U.S. soldiers.

"In the field, effective communication determines the fate of a mission," Custer said. "LaserFire will ensure the safety of troops by offering a precise, secure and dependable means of transmitting information."

Manufacturing of LaserFire will begin at Schott's lighting and imaging unit in Southbridge, Mass., later this year. Space Photonics will receive a royalty payment for each system sold by Schott in the U.S. Chalfant said that revenue will help the company expand further and create more high-tech, high-paying jobs. Space Photonics employs 12, all in Fayetteville and all but two UA graduates.

Phil Stafford, president of the UA Technology Development Foundation, the nonprofit organization that manages the research park, said the partnership "serves notice that world-class technologies are being commercialized here at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park."

Space Photonics says the LaserFire system (PDF) incorporates a "patented automated beam pointing, acquisition and tracking technique. This method ensures a more robust network when optical performance is critical, regardless of available bandwidth, distance, adverse weather conditions or movement. Because the terminal uses low-power infrared lasers, it is nearly impossible for adversaries to detect and intercept the beam while the system is operating."

The system operates about 1,000 times faster than a typical ethernet connection.

"With our technique we can do high-capacity communications through the air and nobody would tap into that," Chalfant said. "It's very covert. You can't see it. It's an optical wavelength that's not visible."

Chalfant, a Booneville native, founded Space Photonics in 1999. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Hendrix College in Conway and a master’s degree in physics from the UA, where he specialized in laser technology.



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