LE BOURGET, France —
Germany’s Tesat-Spacecom and Oerlikon Space AG of Switzerland are expanding their cooperation in space-based laser communications with the goal of
placing their hardware on European Earth observation satellites and one or more geostationary-orbiting telecommunications spacecraft.
With the blessing and continued financing of their respective national space agencies, Tesat and Oerlikon hope that this fall’s
planned in-orbit demonstration of laser links between two low-orbiting satellites will help crack open markets in Europe, the United States and elsewhere.
laser communications terminals are on board the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s N-FIRE satellite and on Germany’s TerraSAR-X radar Earth observation spacecraft.
Chief Executive Berry Smutny said the NFIRE-mounted laser communications terminal has performed an end-to-end test of its performance by bouncing a laser signal off a mirror-like component on the NFIRE satellite.
The laser terminals are capable of sending data at a speed of 5.5 gigabits per second between low-orbiting satellites located some 6,000 kilometers from each other. Laser links between a satellite in higher geostationary orbit and a low-orbiting spacecraft – with distances of some 45,000 kilometers – could be done at a speed of some 2.8 gigabits per second, Smutny said.
Smutny and Oerlikon Space Managing Director Axel Deich said the two companies hope to use the NFIRE-TerraSAR-X demonstration as a proof-of-concept confirmation for the U.S. and German governments, and for the European Space Agency (ESA).
“There are several Missile Defense Agency and other U.S. government programs that we would like to be part of with our laser terminals, and there is an opportunity in Europe with ESA,” Smutny said here June 19 during the Paris air show.
Deich said Europe’s flagship environmental effort, called Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) is a near-term opportunity for laser terminals to be placed on two or three GMES satellites, called Sentinels, that are being designed by ESA.
The contract for Sentinel-1 was signed here June 18, between ESA and ThalesAlenia Space, for 229 million euros ($307
million). Contracts for two other Sentinel satellites are expected in the coming months.
said the Sentinel program has sufficient capacity on board the satellites to accommodate a laser terminal to speed the arrival of data to users by sending the data to Earth via a laser terminal on board a satellite in geostationary orbit.
ESA has planned to launch a large satellite, called AlphaSat, in 2011-2012 and plans to place a laser terminal on board as a technology-demonstration payload. Deish and Smutny also hope that, with German and Swiss government backing, they will be able to secure a spot on ESA’s Small-Geo satellite, now being designed and scheduled for launch in 2011.
Ludwig Baumgarten, a member of the management board of the German Aerospace Center, DLR, said his agency is prepared to back efforts to find applications for the laser technology, which he said is a niche in which Germany has developed a world-class expertise.
Daniel Neuenschwander, deputy head of the Swiss ESA delegation, said Switzerland has invested in Oerlikon-developed laser communications since around 1997 as part of a policy of using the government’s limited resources on a few selected technologies.
In Europe, the Tesat-Oerlikon work competes with a French-led technology development program for which Astrium Satellites is prime contractor. Under contract to the French arms procurement agency, DGA, Astrium has been testing laser links between a French business jet flying at 300 kilometers per hour and ESA’s Artemis satellite in geostationary orbit, which is equipped with an Astrium-built laser terminal.
DGA demonstrated several live laser links here between the Mystere 20 modified jet, flying at
9,100 meters, and Artemis.