RIFOCS Fiber Optics Has Space Mission Role


Any company with John Glenn and the Earth on its resume can expect to draw some attention. So don't be surprised to hear the RIFOCS Corp. name tossed around in the months ahead.

The Camarillo-based manufacturer of fiber-optic components, instruments and test equipment is booked on NASA's space shuttle Endeavour mission scheduled for mid-September. Fiber optics will play a critical role in the 11-day Space Radar Topography Mission, a project aimed at collecting high-resolution, digital radar mapping of the earth's surface.

Last year, RIFOCS components also played an important role in Glenn's landmark flight aboard the shuttle Discovery, providing parts for fiber-optic flight experiments. And for good measure, the company's components were used on the Discovery flight to the international space station earlier this year.

On the most recent mission, fiber optics were incorporated into tests to upgrade the way spacecrafts monitor themselves during flight.

Dennis Horwitz, vice president of the RIFOCS military and aerospace division, said the Glenn and space station missions have increased the awareness of the value of fiber optics in space.

"Up to those two missions, fiber optics was a low-order footnote to missions--you didn't even hear of it," he said. "Now we're becoming a headliner."

Along with its outer-space projects, RIFOCS has provided fiber-optic components and systems for military AWACS, Lockheed Martin's scale model of a next-genera*tion shuttle at Edwards Air Force Base, commercial airlines and other aircraft uses. RIFOCS was recently awarded a $1.3-million contract to supply fiber-optic connectors for use by Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space.

Founded in 1990, RIFOCS originally was an importer of high-end fiber-optic connectors and a manufacturer of fiber-optic components. The company expanded to include the manufacture of fiber-optic test and measurement equipment.

The growth of the high-speed telecommunications market has spurred the growth of the company, and since 1994 RIFOCS has increased its work force from 20 to 65 full-time employees. Although it still targets the communications market, the company more recently has targeted the avionics industry as well.

"Fiber optics have a lot of advantages" in avionics, said Horwitz, co-founder and former vice president of operations for Photodyne.

"It supports high band width without the problems of copper or coaxial systems. It is smaller in size, lighter in weight and not sensitive to [radio frequency or electromagnetic] interference," he said. "You can call them stealthy from that regard. There is a whole lot of stealth quality that the military likes."

Horowitz said existing military aircraft regularly are upgraded with fiber-optic components, and new aircraft have fiber optics incorporated into their design.

"If you look at the available components, a lot of leading-edge stuff is fiber-optics based," he said.

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