Innovation: Developing Aircraft Photonic Networks

Last update: 30.06.2013
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Keywords: 
fiber optics, fibre optics, transport, photonics, data networks, communications networks, network research, information and communication technology applications, network technologies
DAPHNE is an extensive update of the ENNET FP7-AAT-2007-RTD-1 proposal (scored 11.5: above evaluation threshold, but not retained due to budget constraints). Evaluation comments have been fully addressed; WP structure completely revised and the consortium strengthened, particularly by addition of Airbus as Technical Lead. Aircraft data networks have increased dramatically in complexity throughout the history of powered flight.

Modern networks must support many nodes with a wide range of span lengths, bandwidths and protocols. Existing systems, chiefly based on copper conductors, have evolved to support these ever-increasing demands. These networks have consequently become larger, heavier and more expensive, and this trend is set to continue. A coordinated step change to fibre optics would reduce network size, weight and cost and improve the modularity, flexibility and scalability. Moreover, fibre brings many other advantages including EMC immunity and improved security. By defining networks according to a DAL-based hierarchy, the flexibility of photonics can be harnessed within the constraints of safety certification restrictions. Terrestrial telecoms provides a rich source of technology. However, R&D is required to adapt terrestrial photonics for aircraft networks.

Cabin systems have been identified as the most immediate application area: here the need for high flexibility (driven by customization), high bandwidth (driven by information-to-the-seat) and large node count mean that the technology and business cases for photonics are compelling. The primary objective of DAPHNE is to enable the full exploitation of terrestrial optical networking technology in future European aircraft and systems. The project will adopt key component and network technology from commercial markets and develop and validate future aircraft networks to take European aircraft systems capability well beyond current state-of-the-art and be suitable as a platform for future development.

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Project context and objectives:

DAPHNE objectives

DAPHNE aims to increase the use of telecoms and industrial optical networking technology in future European aircraft systems. Fibre optics and photonics offer obvious size, weight and bit rate advantages beyond aircraft systems state-of-the-art, but there are several other benefits:

- excellent electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) due to the nature of the optical signal, without the need for heavy and bulky shielding;
- increased functionality, e.g. wavelength division multiplexing (WDM), wavelength switching and optical-electrical-optical (OEO) conversion, potentially permit aircraft networks to be modular and reconfigurable;
- hierarchical segregation: e.g. physical (multiple fibre), wavelength (single fibre) or temporal (single channel) allows novel modular network designs.

Instead of many discrete systems each with its own infrastructure, photonics allows a single network that delivers a signal transport function capable of supporting the channel segregation needs associated with different design assurance levels (DALs, i.e. different levels of criticality) with the required quality-of-service characteristics of the channel.

DAPHNE challenges

The increased functionality and data transmission speeds on modern aircraft make the investment in aircraft optical communications cost-effective, as copper-based systems become increasingly heavy and expensive. However, aircraft networks differ from terrestrial telecoms systems and other optical networks (e.g. rail, automotive) in several fundamental respects:

- Network size: there are far fewer nodes on aircraft than on typical telecoms networks (thousands rather than millions) and much shorter link lengths: (metres rather than kilometres). This radically changes the cost model and optimised network design.
- Traffic type: The system must cope with signals ranging from sub-kbps to multi-Gbps using avionic protocols, some of which are not directly fibre-compatible.
- Component limitations: Aircraft systems demand extended performance but also wider operating temperature range, demanding shock and vibration, rigorous flame and toxicity specifications etc.
- Component standards: pre-requisite for component qualification in many aircraft manufacturers is certification to an appropriate international standard.

DAPHNE aims to tackle these problems to facilitate the use of photonics within the aeronautic industry and establish the basis for a common infrastructure for aircraft photonic networks.

Project results:

The DAPHNE objectives will be tackled at four levels:
- networks: adapt optical network technology for aircraft platforms;
- modules: define a modular infrastructure for aircraft fibre optic networks;
- components: develop photonic component technology for aircraft environments;
- dissemination: disseminate project results to aircraft industry to ensure effective uptake.

Networks

A wide range of fibre optic network topologies and techniques has been developed for terrestrial systems: these will be analysed, adapted and optimised for representative aircraft platforms (large and small aircraft; rotary and fixed wing). Extended network functional and environmental testing under aircraft operating conditions will be carried out to verify network performance including critical system safety testing that analyses reliability and failure modes.

Modules

DAPHNE will define a scalable, modular infrastructure for aircraft photonic networks including node and interconnect concepts. In general, standard avionic boxes and interfaces were designed for electronic equipment, but are not optimised for photonics; a new avionic box standard will be promoted. A modular building block system suitable for aircraft environments will be developed. Standard practices for optical signal management from circuit board level to the external connector interface will be defined.

Components

Key devices and components for the DAPHNE infrastructure require adaptation to make them suitable for use in aircraft operational environments. Detailed requirements will follow from the baseline studies but are likely to include: ruggedisation for aircraft environments, compact intra-module connectors, full duplex MM fibre-optic transceivers and single and multiple ribbon fibre break-out. Standardised interfaces, i.e. a well-defined mating point interface between component and network, would greatly improve the compatibility of components from different manufacturers without needing to specify the connector itself.

Dissemination

The uptake of the results by industry is essential to the project success. The DAPHNE advisory group (DAG) will enable the consortium to engage relevant actors in the aerospace value chain, from component suppliers, through equipment manufacturers to end-users to ensure that a wide section of industry is given the chance to validate the concepts and solutions developed in DAPHNE. The use of photonics for aircraft communications systems is still in its infancy. DAPHNE aims to establish the centre of mass of avionic photonic expertise firmly in Europe.

DAG

DAG has been established in order to encourage the exchange of information into and out of the DAPHNE project. The DAG should help to direct and strengthen the work programme followed by the project partners and demonstrate the potential for future fibre optic business to the DAG members. The DAPHNE partners hope that this will help to make fibre optic communication networks on vehicles, and especially aircraft, more accessible and acceptable. The DAG will focus on key topics, including:

- network architectures
- network hardware building blocks
- through-life support considerations
- standardisation proposals.

The DAG consists of four working groups:

- DAG1 network architecture group
- DAG2 hardware group
- DAG3 through-life support group
- DAG4 inter-project liaison.

Identification of hardware requirements

DAPHNE has performed a COTS component maturity assessment providing a list of potential network building blocks (optical components) and their associated aircraft technology and industrial readiness levels (TRLs / IRLs).

The study examined state-of-the-art photonic components that are in use in terrestrial applications or are under development. Many COTS components are now available over an extended temperature and environmental range so that they can be qualified for aircraft use. This information was used to identify a wish list of aerospace-qualified components required for the next generation of optical networks on aircraft.

Through life support

A key area of the DAPHNE research is the investigation of practical aspects of through-life support for aircraft fibre optic networks, including:

- repair and maintenance
- test and measurement
- in-service experience (as users or support providers).

One of the key topics of the DAPHNE program is to build on and share existing fibre optic experience, in particular with respect to practical issues related to installing and maintaining fibre optic networks on vehicles. A questionnaire has been prepared to compile this knowledge and results from a wide range of relevant organisations are being compiled.

DAPHNE network models

During the last period the DAPHNE network modelling progress has been divided into several steps:

- define requirements of existing and future networks for both fixed and rotary wing environments;
- specification of photonic network components based on real data from existing commercially available components, and predicted performance of future components. In the diagram opposite, a example of a simple transmitter is shown, with some of the variables included in the network model;
- topology studies: a number of different topologies could be appropriate for aircraft networks, including star, ring and bus systems. Once the components have been modelled and the network requirements defined, different potential solutions can be quickly quantitatively assessed;
- generic network maps were developed including nodes, links, topology, and network requirements.

Currently, the first functional models are being developed to optimise weight, cost and reliability.

Potential impacts from the project include the following:

- Reduced aircraft development costs

Implementation of fibre optics in aircraft has been hindered by the perceived high cost and long lead times, because these systems have been stand-alone custom designed links. The DAPHNE concept of a set of standard interfaces, links, components and sub-systems will reduce development costs:

- Design engineers will have a standard set of building block technologies to reduce the inventory across different aircraft platforms.
- Standardisation will lead to a set of COTS components and sub-systems available from several vendors and alleviate the risk of obsolescence.
- Certification will be made easier through the ability to refer to existing certified solutions based on the same proven technology.

- Competitive supply chain

DAPHNE will promote a set of standard components and design requirements, which will lead to a healthier competitive supplier base and shorter lead times:

- standardisation will lead to the establishment of a set of validated COTS components.

- Reduced fuel consumption and CO2 emissions

DAPHNE will contribute by significantly reducing the mass of the aircraft, whilst improving the network capabilities. Even a like-for-like replacement of fibre for copper in the entire communications network of a large airliner could yield a weight saving of several hundred kilograms.

- Increased on-board services and comfort

The possibility for high speed broadband-to-the-seat will permit a step change in the entertainment and information services which may be offered by airlines to passengers, including video-on-demand and broadband internet access.

Project website: http://www.fp7daphne.eu

Collaboration sought: N/A

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This innovation is the result of the project

Title: Developing Aircraft Photonic Networks

Acronym: 
DAPHNE

Runtime: 
01.09.2009 to 28.02.2013

Status: 
completed project

Organisations and people involved in this eco-innovation.

Please click on an entry to view all contact details.

AIRBUS OPERATIONS GMBH

(Germany)

Role in project: Project Coordination

Contact person: Ms. GENZEL Katrin

Website: http://www.airbus.com

Phone: +49-4074374005

Contact

AVOPTICS LIMITED

(United Kingdom)

Contact person: Mr. VOIZEY Andrew Robert

Website: http://www.avoptics.com

Phone: +44-1935471606

Contact

BAE SYSTEMS (OPERATIONS) LTD

(United Kingdom)

Contact person: Mr. ALDRIDGE Nigel

Website: http://www.baesystems.com

Phone: +44-1173028187

Contact

D-LIGHTSYS

(France)

Contact person: Mr. PEZ Mathias

Website: http://www.d-lightsys.com

Phone: +33-149353953

Contact

DANMARKS TEKNISKE UNIVERSITET

(Denmark)

Contact person: Ms. TEGLSTRUP Heidi

Website: http://www.dtu.dk

Phone: +45-45256352

Contact

DRAKA FILECA SAS

(France)

Contact person: Mr. VIGNERON Emmanuel

Website: http://www.draka.com

Phone: +33-620685146

Contact

EADS DEUTSCHLAND GMBH

(Germany)

Contact person: Mr. LILISCHKIS Peter

Website: http://www.eads.net

Phone: +49-89-607-28018

Contact

GMVIS SKYSOFT SA

(Portugal)

Contact person: Mr. MADEIRA Jorge

Website: http://www.gmv.com.pt

Phone: +351-213829366

Contact

GOOCH & HOUSEGO (TORQUAY) LIMITED

(United Kingdom)

Contact person: Dr. FARRIES Mark

Website: http://www.sifamfo.com

Phone: +44-7968952402

Contact

INESC PORTO - INSTITUTO DE ENGENHARIA DE SISTEMAS E COMPUTADORES DO PORTO

(Portugal)

Contact person: Prof. SALGADO Henrique

Website: http://www.inescporto.pt

Phone: +351-222094000

Contact

RADIALL

(France)

Contact person: Mr. PEZ Mathias

Website: http://www.radiall.com

Phone: +33-149353953

Contact

SELEX ELECTRONIC SYSTEMS S.P.A.

(Italy)

Contact person: Mr. TRAVERSONE Massimo

Website: http://www.selex-es.com

Phone: +39-0331582295

Contact

SELEX GALILEO SPA

(Italy)

Contact person: Mr. TRAVERSONE Massimo

Website: http://www.selexgalileo.com

Phone: +39-0331582295

Contact

SQS VLAKNOVA OPTIKA A.S.

(Czech Republic)

Contact person: Mr. KOPACEK Ilja

Website: http://www.sqs-fiber.cz

Phone: +420-493765367

Contact

TECHNISCHE UNIVERSITAET ILMENAU

(Germany)

Contact person: Mr. MIROW Thomas

Website: http://www.tu-ilmenau.de

Phone: +49-3677692555

Contact

VIVID COMPONENTS LTD

(United Kingdom)

Contact person: Dr. NAPIER Bruce Robertson

Phone: +49-52511845331

Contact

WESTLAND HELICOPTERS LTD.

(United Kingdom)

Contact person: Mr. HARRIS Neil

Website: http://www.whl.co.uk

Phone: +44-1935703594

Contact