The European Space Agency (ESA) last week successfully beamed 100 laser-based signals between two orbiting satellites.
The success opens up the possibility of the technology being added to ‘conventional’ DTH orbiting satellites. The signals were beamed from an experimental low-orbiting Sentinel-1A satellite to AlphaSat, operating in geostationary orbit, and with 48,000 kms between the two spacecraft. The data was transmitted at 1.8 gigabits per second.
ESA funded the tests on AlphaSat which is operated by Inmarsat. The laser terminal was funded in part by the German Aerospace Center and constructed by Tesat Spacecom of Germany.
A commercial test-deployment of the technology, from Airbus Defence & Space, is planned for inclusion on the upcoming Eutelsat 9B telecommunications satellite, scheduled for launch later this year.
The appeal for satellite operators is simple: A laser beam can carry about 1000 times more data than a radio frequency-based beam. Laser beams can also be used safely in situations where existing radio-based frequencies are congested, or simply not available.
One company, Laser Light Communications, is working with Australia’s Optus on a ‘Space Cable’ satellite system that they say could handle 7.2 Tb of capacity, whereas a conventional high-throughput satellite could handle – at best – 60-70 Gb of data throughput.