This illustration shows SpaceLink’s optical terminal mounted on the first module of the future Axiom Station. SpaceLink plans to establish a satellite constellation in medium Earth orbit to relay radio frequency and optical data between satellites in low Earth orbit and the ground. Credit: SpaceLink

SAN FRANCISCO — SpaceLink announced plans Feb. 17 to work with Axiom Space to conduct the first demonstration of its space data relay service on the International Space Station.

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, manager of the ISS National Laboratory, awarded McLean, Virginia-based SpaceLink a contract to demonstrate data transmission from the Space Station through optical terminals at a rate of 10 gigabits per second.

Once that contract was finalized, SpaceLink awarded Axiom a subcontract to support mission integration, launch and operations. Axiom also will serve as SpaceLink’s liaison with NASA, ensuring SpaceLink hardware meets stringent ISS safety requirements.

SpaceLink CEO Dave Bettinger called the demonstration, scheduled for 2024, “an excellent validation to show data rates to the ISS that I believe are potentially one or two orders of magnitude higher than what they’ve seen.”

OHB System AG is manufacturing four satellites, which it plans to send to medium Earth orbit in 2024, to relay data for government and commercial customers. The planned service is similar to what NASA provides today through the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite constellation in geostationary orbit.

“We see it as a an important milestone for us to show NASA and the world that we are going to be able to provide the services in space that commercial, government and international entities will be using in the future,” Bettinger told SpaceNews.

Axiom won a NASA contract in 2020 to develop a commercial module for the Space Station. Axiom also is planning a series of commercial ISS missions.

“High-speed communication will be a critical component for the future where people live and work in space,” Michael Suffredini, Axiom president and CEO, said in a statement. “Axiom looks forward to collaborating with SpaceLink and supporting its relay network, beginning with this important demonstration on the ISS.”

SpaceLink plans to conduct the data relay demonstration in 2024 after testing in-orbit testing of its communications satellites.

NASA is preparing to hand off to industry the job of providing communications for dozens of spaceflight missions including ISS. Like transportation of crew and cargo to the ISS and cargo delivery to the moon, NASA sees communications in Earth orbit as a job commercial companies can take over.

“NASA has done a great job of going commercial where it makes sense and saved a lot of money on that,” Bettinger said. “We see this as a perfect example. We’re very proud to be a part of the CASIS project.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...