Optical Amplifier Technology Licensed to Northrop Grumman

APL has licensed an optical amplifier technology to Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation that will enable the company’s Electronics Systems sector to send optical communications data between two line-of-site points, called free-space optical communications (FSOC). Without this technology, various types of interference within the atmosphere, including rain, humidity, and dust, would interrupt the transmission, causing it to lose connections, jam, or function at insufficient bandwidths.

FSOC rely on light waves to carry data directly through the atmosphere or space, making it fast and easy to deploy since there is no need for fibers, cables, or radio-frequency (RF) equipment. FSOC introduce further advantages with their capacity to handle very high data rates. Under the correct conditions, data can be transmitted at aggregate speeds greater than 80 gigabytes per second, comparable to high-speed cable and fiber optics and more than 100 times faster than currently employed RF systems.

In 2006, APL researchers found that FSOC alternatives that were being pursued by many organizations had the potential to solve the communications challenges Laboratory sponsors were working to overcome, but the serious problem of atmospheric interference had to be addressed. Following APL’s more than 60-year tradition of solving complex problems challenging the nation, several experts in sensors and communications, using internal funds, began looking at ideas that eventually led to the optical amplifier solution. The Laboratory sponsor, eager to see the technology moved toward deployment, encouraged the technology transition to Northrop.

Northrop will use the technology to support a contract they were recently awarded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for the Optical RF Communications Adjunct (ORCA) project. The ORCA project is an initiative to develop the next-generation communications networks for the U.S. military that address the increasing need for simultaneous, stable transmissions and receptions of voice, image, video, and other critical and high bandwidth data between stationary and mobile forces.

Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems’ website is http://www.es.northropgrumman.com/.

Annual Statistics

FY2007 Data

  • 131 inventions disclosed
  • 42 U.S. patents issued
  • 109 U.S. patent applications filed
  • 18 license agreements executed
  • 1 new company created
  • $3.2 million in licensing and related R&D income

Eight-Year Cumulative Data (1999–2007)

  • 1,054 inventions disclosed
  • 229 U.S. patents issued
  • 1,223 U.S. patent applications filed
  • 193 license agreements executed
  • 17 new companies created (>50 new jobs created)
  • >$29.2 million in licensing and related R&D income
  • >45 products on the market using APL technology



© 2007 The Johns Hopkins University