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Multi-Access Optical System for Communications and Sensing Applications


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Battlespace, Information Systems, Sensors


OBJECTIVE: Develop a small form-factor, highly scalable and affordable point-to-multi-point optical sensing and communications architecture for data transfer between numerous sensors and platforms in multiple environments.

DESCRIPTION: For tactical and strategic awareness the Navy deploys a wide range of platforms and sensors for surveillance, detection, localization, tracking and characterization [1]. With emerging unmanned, autonomous, and distributed technologies a large number of platforms and sensors can be located in the battle space, and data must be retrieved and shared for complete situational awareness. For this application, optical communications has numerous advantages including high data rates, immunity to interference, and low probability of interception and detection [2, 3]. However, traditional laser communications systems have been designed primarily for single point-to-point links and are based on mechanically-intensive and non-scalable technologies. A multi-point system extends existing methods by taking advantage of both temporal and spatial dimensions. Employing traditional design approaches to the emerging multi-point applications requires too much SWaP (Size, Weight, and Power) and cost-to-scale with future needs. The intent of this topic is to develop an optical point-to-multi-point communications system which is low SWaP (Weight: <50 lbs, Size: <1ft Dia X 3ft High, Power: <3KW Total Electrical), highly scalable (Spectral Scalability: Visible though IR), and affordable (Cost: < $250K / unit). The technology approach should scale to large multi-point topologies, agilely track moving terminals, be compatible with communication and sensing through air or water, and be robust compared to existing mechanical approaches.

PHASE I: Determine feasibility for a Multi-Access Optical System for Communications and Sensing Applications. Develop the initial architecture, identify key technologies, and model the system advantages and tradeoffs. Specific areas of interest include multi-point scalability, speed of tracking, and range performance.

PHASE II: Based on the results of Phase I effort, develop a Multi-Access Optical System for Communications and Sensing Applications prototype for evaluation. The prototype will be evaluated to determine its capability in meeting the performance goals defined in Phase II Statement of Work (SoW) and the Navy need for agile aperture steering technology. Demonstrate the ability to support both laser communications and LADAR sensing applications. The prototype design should provide 360-degree angular coverage and no less than 10 degrees elevation coverage. Deliver a prototype to the Navy for evaluation. The team will perform detailed analysis to ensure materials are rugged and appropriate for Navy application. Limited environmental, shock, and vibration analysis will also be performed (note that testing is not intended to meet formal shock, vibration or temperature requirements. It is intended to identify problem areas that might prevent transition of the design to Phase III).

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Apply the knowledge gained in Phase II to build, deliver and integrate an advanced agile laser communication/LADAR combined system, suitably packaged for shipboard use (note that the intent here is to use the information learned during Phase II testing to have units capable of surviving unattended aboard ship for roughly 6 months. After that period, those units are swapped out for new or reconditioned units). Support the Navy for test and validation to certify and qualify the system for Navy use. Explore the potential to transfer the agile aperture laser system to other military and commercial systems (undersea, airborne, and ground vehicle agile laser communication/LADAR systems). Market research and analysis shall identify the most promising technology areas and the team shall develop manufacturing plans to facilitate a smooth transition to the Navy. Development of robust multi-access optical communications technology could greatly enhance the effectiveness of sensors and unmanned platforms by maintaining high-speed communications, and reducing local signal processing requirements. This in turn reduces power consumption, which increases platform/sensor endurance. New optical approaches could also apply to commercial imaging and tracking applications in security, industrial automation, and health care sectors.


    • Office of Naval Research. Naval S&T Strategic Plan. 2011.


    • Das, Santanu, et al. "Requirements and challenges for tactical free-space lasercomm." Military Communications Conference, 2008 (MILCOM 2008). IEEE, 2008.


  • Goetz, Peter G., et al. "Modulating retro-reflector lasercom systems at the Naval Research Laboratory." Military Communications Conference, 2010 (MILCOM 2010). IEEE, 2010.

KEYWORDS: Optics, Communications, Photonics, Laser, Sensors, LADAR

  • TPOC-1: Mike Wardlaw
  • Email:
  • TPOC-2: Hendricks Eric
  • Email:

Questions may also be submitted through DoD SBIR/STTR SITIS website.

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