Space application of optical fibers

Optical fiber is a universal material that can be used in numerous fields of application, for example, in medicine, data transmission, laser systems, biotechnology, etc.  Nowadays a group of researchers offers their new high-performance optical fiber that can be employed on board International Space Station.

The fact is recently the members of the International Space station or ISS have got highly developed hardware for providing high transmission fiber optics in zero gravity. Such an optical fiber was launched last week, and very soon it will be produced with the help of an engineering prototype.

The main purpose of the research supported by NASA  is considered to estimate the

possibility of producing high-quality increased bandwidth fiber optics under conditions of zero-gravity. This decision has been made not coincidentally but taking into account the potential physical opportunities of optical fibers.

The researchers confirm that the zero-gravity environment is able to remove the defects in the manufacturing process that appear on Earth, where optical fiber is produced with the help of a special drawing tower. Thus, the researchers consider that the zero-gravity will help to reduce the crystallization during fiber manufacturing that significantly improves the transmission parameters of the fiber optic system.

It should be noted that these changes will allow increasing fiber transmission by 10×. Consequently, fiber optics will offer a unique optical transmission spectrum that opens new promising fiber applications such as remote sensing, lidar, high-power laser systems, multi/hyperspectral imaging, atmospheric monitoring, and optical data communications.

The description of the experiment demonstrates that the idea is the production of fluoride glass in zero-gravity to create optical fiber that has a wide range window of transmission (beginning with the ultraviolet to mid-infrared spectrum). Usually, the production of fiber optics by a traditional fiber tower causes the appearance of different defects because of the small difference between the glass transition and crystallization temperatures.

The experiment includes two phases: the first one is the demonstration of an optical fiber draw process by an in situ coating and a new technique for the draw in orbit. The second phase contains the extension of the fiber optic technology to rare-earth doped fibers that are usually applied inside fiber lasers.

Finally, the new optical fiber can find new fields of application due to its high quality, for example, it comes to telecommunications, laser surgery, and other industrial and military areas. Moreover, it may be possible to employ such fiber optics back on Earth.

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