Evolutionary Lasers enable Satellite-Data Tag Team

Evolutionary Lasers enable Satellite-Data Tag Team

New laser data links could help satellites in disparate orbits communicate more effectively with one another, potentially benefitting disaster management here on Earth. Last month the European Space agency and partner organizations completed the first-ever gigabit transmission via laser between one satellite in low-Earth orbit and another in geostationary orbit.

The Laser Communication Terminal (LCT) technology was constructed by Airbus Defense and Space subsidiary Tesat-Spacecom of Backnang, Germany and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR). The solid-state laser system is pumped by laser diode benches developed at the Ferdinand Braun Institute in Berlin. During the manifestation, data transfer reached 0.6 Gbps out of a potential 1.8 Gbps over a distance of about 45,000 km, according to Airbus.

“You can visualize the link of today as an optical fiber in the sky that can connect the Sentinels back home to Europe, from wherever they are on their orbit around Earth,” said ESA Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications Magali Vaissiere. “The link is operated at 1.8 Gbps, with a design that could scale up to 7.2 Gbps in the future. Never has so much data traveled in space.”

Faster transmission between satellites could help get critical data to the ground more quickly.

The Sentinel-1A performs radar observations of the Earth’s surface from an altitude of about 700 km. From this relatively shallow orbit, it can only transmit data when it passes over nominated ground stations in Europe. These ground stations are enduringly visible, however, to Alphasat, Europe’s largest telecommunications satellite, which inhabits a geostationary orbiting at about 36,000 km. Thus images transmitted by laser from Sentinel-1A to Alphasat can reach the ground in nearly in real time.

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