FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Bandwidth is the key word in telecommunications today and Chuck Chalfant has it. The optical fiber technology he is producing at Space Photonics can carry 10 channels simultaneously at sustained speeds of 10 gigabits per second. That would make each channel 200,000 times faster than a standard 56.6 kilobyte modem on a computer.
"The telecomm market has been overtaken by the datacomm market," explained Chalfant, president of Space Photonics of Fayetteville. "And datacomm is all about bandwidth. To get the bandwidth, fiber optics is the answer. The 1s and 0s are now transmitted by using high-speed lasers fired through optical fiber."
A client at the University of Arkansas Genesis Technology Incubator, Space Photonics has developed a niche market in the design and prototyping of advanced microelectronic fiber optic components and network systems. It utilizes technology developed by subcontractors at the University and develops products that will succeed in the marketplace.
Although it is a small company, Space Photonics is known and respected in the high-technology community. It recently demonstrated the fastest space-radiation tolerant fiber optic network ever created at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center. Chalfant has also been contacted by Allenia Aerospace, an Italian company that manufactures satellites for the European Space Agency, about using Space Photonic systems in their satellites.
"We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the University of Arkansas," Chalfant said. "Genesis makes it much, much easier to get started. It allowed me to move straight in and get to work without blinking an eye. It is an important resource and more people should take advantage of it."
In addition to developing fiber optics for use in commercial metropolitan networks, Space Photonics specializes in high-bandwidth networks required for the next generation of satellites. Its government and commercial aerospace product development includes such clients as NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Department of Defense.
Recently Space Photonics received one of the first two Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Fast Track contracts ever awarded in Arkansas. The $750,000 Air Force SBIR will be matched by a $187,500 contribution from the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority (ASTA). ASTA is also a participant in a $600,000 NASA SBIR contract awarded in January. Space Photonics subcontracts much of the research on these contracts with researchers at the University of Arkansas.
"I cannot overemphasize the importance of these researchers in securing and completing these contracts,’ noted Chalfant. "Pat Parkerson, research professor in computer science and computer engineering, has been particularly important. His grasp of the technology is truly outstanding and his ability to explain that technology to potential clients has been invaluable."
Chalfant also points to Greg Salamo, university professor of physics, and Len Schaper, director of the University’s High Density Electronics Center (HiDec) as being key players in the decision to move the company to Arkansas. That move will be completed this year when a laboratory and one technician from California will set up shop in the company’s expanded facilities at Genesis and begin fiber optic component fabrication.
Space Photonics expects to expand at the rate of two to three employees per year for the near future. However, the rapidly growing need for advanced fiber optic capabilities on a global scale may propel the company forward even faster.
A native of Booneville, Ark., Chalfant earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Hendrix and a master’s degree in physics from the University of Arkansas, where he specialized in laser technology. After seven years with Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale, Calif., he joined Optical Networks and, after a few years, opened the facility at Genesis. Space Photonics took flight in Feb. 1999. He is delighted to return to Arkansas and to bring high-technology employment opportunities to the state.
"When I graduated, I had to leave Arkansas to get a job in my area," he explains. "By building a company that hires university students and graduates, I can provide opportunities that weren’t available before."
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