From The Editor | August 10, 2022

Bright Ideas — SDA Seeks Demo For Space-To-Aircraft Laser Communications, Cats & Coffee Latest Benefactors Of Laser Innovation

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By Abby Proch, former editor


After a June 2021 demo of laser communications between an orbiting satellite and aircraft in June 2021 didn’t go as planned (the cubesats never reached orbit), the Space Development Agency (SDA) is again asking vendors to demonstrate laser crosslinks between one or more of its 20 Tranche O Transport Layer satellites and a moving aircraft. While that sort of live demo is the goal, SDA is also considering a phased approach wherein a vendor would start with space-to-ground communications and work its way toward space-to-airborne.

Looking for laser technology of another sort is the French government, who has ordered an anti-drone laser weapon prototype ahead of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. The French Ministry of the Armed Forces is looking at HELMA-P to add to its security detail for the weeks-long sporting event and as part of its 2019-2025 campaign to pursue anti-drone weaponry. HELMA-P, or High Energy Laser for Multiple Applications built by Cilas (a part of Ariane Group), successfully destroyed its first UAV in flight in November 2020. HELMA-P can induce optical damage up to 3,000 or neutralize a threat up to 1,000 m.

Refusing to be stumped shipping delays and rising costs, Trumpf took the fate of its products into its own hands by chartering a deep-sea container ship. The decision to leverage private transport may speed up the delivery of nearly 50 laser cutting machines and production parts to the United States by as much as four weeks. From Hamburg, Germany, the ship is expected to bypass the usual ports of call and avoid the backlog of ships waiting to be loaded and unloaded that has stalled delivery timelines.

Having had the wind knocked out of its sails, machine vision firm Cognex is recovering from a massive fire at a partner’s manufacturing facility in Indonesia that destroyed $45 million of its component inventory and equipment. Cognex produces vision systems, software sensors, and barcode readers used in factory automation. No injuries were reported in the June 7 incident, but the physical losses will reportedly result in a $80 million sales loss for the third quarter. The company believes it can recover $60 million of that at a later date.

For now, the U.S. has not jumped in to help fund Israel’s pursuit of a new $150 million laser air defense system. Despite Israeli officials believing the U.S. would tack on roughly $300 million to its current $3.3 billion Foreign Military Financing contribution, especially after a recent visit by President Joe Biden, the U.S. is holding out. However, the U.S. is at least verbally supporting Israel’s pursuit of such defenses, and it’s expected that the U.S. may still contribute at a later date. Israel’s roughly $150 million laser-based rocket interceptor program, called Iron Beam, is a combination surface-to-air and air-to-air defense system.

Not an attosecond too soon, the journal Ultrafast Science announced the winner of its inaugural 1st Women in Ultrafast Science Global Award. Of 28 applications from 10 countries, Shuyun Zhou from Tsinghua University was selected first overall for her work in “Ultrafast dynamics of quantum materials by time- and angle- resolved photoemission spectroscopy.” Ultrafast Science is an online-only, peer-reviewed open access journal focusing on advancements in “attosecond light source, attosecond physics, ultrafast laser and application, ultrafast imaging, ultrafast spectroscopy, ultrafast diagnosis, ultrafast materials and detector, ultrafast & terahertz photonics, ultrafast electronics, ultrafast chemical physics and other ultrafast phenomena.”

With all the breaking research and industry-defining solutions born of photonics and optics, we’d be remiss not to mention one truly life-altering addition to the field: the KiTiDOT. While it’s hard-to-translate mix of upper and lower cases lettering looks like the latest launch from a tech startup, it’s quite simply a collar-mounted laser pointer for your cat. Yes, you can now entertain your feline friend without ever having to lift a finger; its own body movement will now feverishly throw that little red dot around the room for you — and for only $25.

A cat and coffee lover? You’re in luck. If your next cup of brew can’t come soon enough, you’ll be encouraged to know that researchers in Germany are working on a method to make coffee by laser. The novel laser extraction method can reportedly make coffee 300 times faster than the of traditional cold brew method. The team makes its version in just three minutes by pulsing an Nd:YAG laser into the coffee bean and water solution about 80,000 times per second. The resulting brew is just a few degrees warmer than its starting temperature and, once filtered, has a similar aroma to but lower acidity than that of traditional cold brew. However, its caffeine levels are lower, like that of drip coffee. However, that can be resolved by a few more minutes of laser pulses, says the team. The research team is interested in also using the method for making tea and matcha and is currently pursuing commercialization.