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Free-space optical communication with a high-altitude balloon

The FHNW Institute for Sensors and Electronics currently develops an optical receiver and a 2-axis gimbal for a high-altitude balloon (HAB) platform to demonstrate free-space optical communication (FSOC).



Optical sensors and 2-axis gimbal with dc servo-motor control for a high-altitude balloon.


Demonstration of free-space optical communication with a HAB platform. We advance on the optical payload and gimbal to also carry out atmospheric scintillation and fading measurements in future experiments.

Starting situation

Free-space optical communication is considered a next-generation technology. Large bandwidth, license-free spectrum, high data rate, less power and low mass requirements make it appealing for high-speed data links. However, atmospheric turbulence is a major challenge that may lead to serious degradation in bit error rate.

In order to measure primary fading causes for FSOC we currently develop a HAB-gimbal system. Other communication schemes, detectors or flight hardware can also be tested under near-space conditions with our system.


A test flight with a HAB to 38.5 km altitude has been carried out. It has been shown that the 2-axis gimbal is capable of stabilizing an optical payload to better than one degree precision.  


Client Facebook Connectivity Lab, Menlo Park
Execution FHNW Institute for Sensors and Electronics, FHNW Institute of Product and Production Engineering
Duration 1 Years
Team Prof. Dr. Christoph Wildfeuer (Lead), Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Gröbelbauer, Nico Gradwohl, Simon Gerber


Prof. Dr. Christoph Wildfeuer
Prof. Dr. Christoph Wildfeuer Lecturer for Sensor Technology
Telephone +41 56 202 86 46 (direct)