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Federico Pettazzi’s ‘bucket list’ includes visits to the many laser communication terminals that owe their existence, in part, to his work as an optical systems engineer.
“I find lasers endlessly fascinating. They are so versatile. After obtaining a PhD in nonlinear optics, I came to the Netherlands to take up a position at ESA/ESTEC. I already knew a great deal about high-power lasers before I started work at TNO four years ago.
Over the past two years, I have contributed to the development of a critical laser-communication subsystem. Satellites on which these are installed use them to communicate with stations on Earth. The data has to travel several hundred kilometres, while remaining secure and intact. That involves a variety of technological challenges.”
“I was so captivated by the potential of laser communication that, six months ago, I joined a new TNO team dedicated entirely to this topic, as an optical systems engineer. In the development of modern communication systems, one of the most important challenges we face is how to transfer massive amounts of data between satellites and ground stations in a way that is economically viable. In theory, you can transmit more data using laser communication than you can with radio frequencies, because the bandwidth is much larger and the antennas operate much more efficiently. But we still need to clear some major technological hurdles before we can exploit this technology’s potential to the full. Right now, here at TNO, we are making every effort to solve these remaining issues. This involves the application of expertise gained in a range of different fields, such as ground-based astronomy and the semiconductor industry.”
“The laser communication team draws on knowledge from various areas of expertise within TNO. I’m always keen to make connections between this new technology and the expertise we acquire at Optics when designing and building complex optical instruments. It would be really great if, by embedding these optical subsystems, we were able to conquer the remaining technological challenges and make massive data streams a reality.
I hope to learn a great deal here over the next few years. I want to be involved in every aspect of the process of building laser communication terminals. Many technological innovations have survived the scientists who helped create them. That’s just the way it is. Nevertheless, before the end of my career, I hope to see many more terminals installed. I think that would be really cool. Just being able to say “Yes, I was involved in that.”