Meeting at NUI Galway to Discuss EU Airships Project

Monday, 30 March 2009

Airships, reminiscent of zeppelin planes, which operate at an altitude of 20km will be discussed at a meeting NUI Galway is hosting today (Monday, 30 March). The stratospheric airships are being used for communication infrastructure, remote sensing and other applications. The two-day technical meeting will bring together over 50 experts in the fields of radio communication, optical communication and aircraft design. The meeting is part of an EU project called HAPCOS, which is focussed on the development of high altitude platforms. Today's HAPCOS meeting is being hosted by the Applied Optics Group from NUI Galway, whose research is integral to the transmission of optical data through the atmosphere from high altitudes to the ground. According to Ruth Mackey, a researcher with the Applied Optics Group at NUI Galway: "Some of the main applications envisaged for this type of communications platform are for the deployment of immediate response communication networks in disaster recovery situations and to provide communications services to remote locations. These platforms are also being designed for remote sensing applications, for example for crop monitoring, traffic surveillance, or for security in areas such as monitoring the oceans for drug smuggling activity". The Applied Optics Group at NUI Galway is involved with the optical communication aspect of HAPCOS. Ruth Mackey explains: "Optical wireless communication is particularly useful for transmitting large quantities of data to and from remote locations, where it is not possible (or too expensive) to lay optical fibre. However, one of the obstacles to the successful use of this technology, are the adverse effects caused by propagation through the atmosphere, such as beam wander and beam spreading, that reduce signal quality". In its research, the Applied Optics Group use results from a 3km terrestrial optical link, which has been established across Galway City. The link allows researchers to measure the effects of atmospheric turbulence on optical wave propagation and to investigate methods to compensate the atmospheric disturbance of the signal in real time, using adaptive optics. Originally, adaptive optics was a technique developed for Astronomy, to correct the atmospherically degraded images from large Earth based telescopes. NUI Galway is heavily involved in finding use in medical and industrial applications for adaptive optics, in particular for in vivo imaging of the eye and for laser beam shaping.
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