Space Photonics Enters Licensing Agreement With SCHOTT North America for Communications System

President and CEO, Space Photonics Inc.
Photo by Russell Cothren

President and CEO, Space Photonics Inc.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Space Photonics Inc., a Genesis Technology Incubator client at the University of Arkansas, announced Thursday, Nov. 1, that it has entered into an exclusive licensing agreement with SCHOTT North America Inc. for the commercialization of its patented LaserFire Free Space Optical Communications Systems for military and intelligence customers.

The covert optical wireless communications technology enables uninterrupted, secure high-capacity communications, including building-to-building, ship-to-shore, vehicle-to-vehicle and other platforms where detectable and lower capacity microwave is not effective, and where high-capacity fiber-optic cable is not available or has been damaged.

 “It is exciting to see Space Photonics continue to grow and be successful,” said Jim Rankin, vice provost for research and economic development at the University of Arkansas. “Its success reflects well on the research and innovation capabilities at the University of Arkansas and in the state of Arkansas.”

Chuck Chalfant, president and chief executive officer of Space Photonics, said SCHOTT is a world-renowned supplier and manufacturer of optical components.

“There’s no other company in the world that has better expertise when it comes to optics,” Chalfant said. “The partnership for us is huge. We hope to start generating sales in the next six to nine months. We thought up some cool stuff and now it works really well. We’ve found the perfect partner.”

Retired U.S. Air Force Major Gen. Scott Custer, president and CEO of SCHOTT Defense, said partnering with Space Photonics to produce the LaserFire technology will help protect the lives of U.S. servicemen and women around the world.

“In the field, effective communication determines the fate of a mission,” Custer said. “LaserFire will ensure the safety of troops by offering a precise, secure and dependable means of transmitting information.”

SCHOTT’s Lighting and Imaging unit in Southbridge, Mass., will begin manufacturing the LaserFire system in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Under the exclusive licensing agreement, Space Photonics will receive a royalty payment for each LaserFire system sold in the United States by SCHOTT. That revenue will allow Space Photonics to expand as a company and create more high-tech, high-paying jobs, Chalfant said. All but two of the firm’s 12 employees are graduates of the University of Arkansas.

“Intellectual property portfolios are huge,” he said. “We can continue to do that and provide more jobs. We have a great manufacturing partner right now in SCHOTT.”

Genesis, based at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park in Fayetteville, provides technology-based companies with research and development support.

Phil Stafford, president of the University of Arkansas Technology Development Foundation, the nonprofit organization that manages the Arkansas Research and Technology Park, said, “This licensing agreement represents the culmination of years of dedicated research and development by Space Photonics. It also serves notice that world-class technologies are being commercialized here at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park.”

The LaserFire system, developed in laboratories at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park, incorporates a patented automated beam pointing, acquisition and tracking technique. This method ensures a more robust network when optical performance is critical, regardless of available bandwidth, distance, adverse weather conditions or movement. Because the terminal uses low-power infrared lasers, it is nearly impossible for adversaries to detect and intercept the beam while the system is operating.

The high-capacity communications system operates about 1,000 times faster than a typical Ethernet connection. Space Photonics completed development of the LaserFire system under a four-year Air Force Advanced Spacecraft Technology contract after earlier development under Small Business Innovation Research Programs. Douglas Craig, with the Air Force Research Laboratory in Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M., has managed the majority of these Air Force development efforts with Space Photonics.

“With our technique we can do high-capacity communications through the air and nobody would tap into that,” Chalfant said. “It’s very covert. You can’t see it. It’s an optical wavelength that’s not visible.”

Chalfant founded Space Photonics in February 1999. A native of Booneville, Ark., he earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Hendrix College in Conway and a master’s degree in physics from the University of Arkansas, where he specialized in laser technology.

In addition to employing U of A graduates, Space Photonics has collaborated on research with university faculty members such as Greg Salamo, distinguished professor of physics in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences; and researchers Rick Ulrich, professor of chemical engineering; Pat Parkerson, associate professor of computer science and computer engineering; and Leonard Schaper, professor emeritus of electrical engineering.

Chalfant cited the support of Arkansas’ congressional delegation for the company’s success, including Sens. Mark Pryor and John Boozman and Rep. Steve Womack, who represents the 3rd Congressional District.

“They’ve been supportive from the beginning,” Chalfant said. “They want to infuse technology-oriented jobs and growth here. They’ve collectively worked really hard for us and helped us get research and development dollars along the way. The funding that they helped us get has made a huge difference. It’s been very, very significant in our ability to make this thing work.”

Space Photonics Inc.

Space Photonics Inc., based at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park in Fayetteville, Ark., develops, markets and sells high reliability optical communications systems for military and aerospace applications. Customers have included the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and NASA. Products include their patented LaserFire free space optical communications systems; space qualified radiation-hard FireFiber fiber optics, and FireRing high-capacity networks.

Arkansas Research and Technology Park

The Arkansas Research and Technology Park is the only knowledge-based community in association with the University of Arkansas. It is rapidly gaining recognition as a regional asset, supporting the commercialization of emerging technologies that are adding an important dimension to the local and state economy.

SCHOTT Defense

SCHOTT has been supplying the U.S. defense market with advanced technologies for more than 40 years. The company’s product range includes fiber optics, optical and filter glasses, glass and glass-ceramic armor and hermetic packages for protecting sensitive electronic components.


SCHOTT is an international technology group with more than 125 years of experience in the areas of specialty glasses, materials and advanced technologies. Its core markets are the household appliance, pharmaceuticals, electronics, optics, transportation and architecture industries. Its 17,000 employees generated worldwide sales of nearly $4 billion in fiscal year 2011.


Chuck Chalfant, president/CEO
Space Photonics Inc.

Phil Stafford, president
University of Arkansas Research Development Founda

Jim Rankin, vice provost for research and economic development
Academic Affairs

Chris Branam, research communications writer/editor
University Relations

Victoria Sanville, manager, government communications
SCHOTT Defense


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