Bartolomeo, an external platform built and operated by Airbus, is on the International Space Station's Columbus module. Credit: Airbus Defence and Space

SAN FRANCISCO – Xenesis is preparing to install an optical communications hub for customers of Bartolomeo, Airbus’ external research platform on the International Space Station.

“Airbus is working with Xenesis to provide broadband data downlink capability to its customers on the Bartolomeo space platform,” Manfred Jaumann, Airbus Defence and Space head of low-Earth orbit and suborbital programs, told SpaceNews by email. “This capability has been foreseen from the beginning of the platform development and would now be realized with the Xen-Hub terminal.”

Illinois-based Xenesis plans to ship the Xen-Hub optical flight terminal to Airbus in November for launch on an ISS commercial resupply mission. After installation in February 2025 and testing, Xenesis will begin providing communications services by the end of the second quarter of 2025, said Xenesis CEO Mark LaPenna.

Bartolomeo customers focused on Earth observation are “contributing to the need for broadband communications with the ground,” Jaumann said. “Airbus and Xen-Hub will provide the optical communication solution which will open up broadband data downlink capability on the ISS between many users in parallel.”

The Bartolomeo mission is important for Xenesis because it’s “a full-blown commercial agreement with a prime contractor,” LaPenna said. Plus, “all ISS tenant agencies, companies and residents will benefit from using a 10 [gigabit per second] connection,” he added.

SmallSat Applications

Through Bartolomeo service, Xenesis intends to demonstrate optical communications technology for Intercessor, an optical mesh network for data backhaul.

A miniature, unidirectional version of Xen-Hub “will allow small satellite builders and operators to utilize a 5 [gigabit per second] persistent link for live data transfer to one of three Xen-Hub equipped Intercessor satellite constellations,” LaPenna said. “A prime use case would be live imagery.”

Optical communications could, for example, speed up data transfer for government agencies involved with border security including the Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and state national guards, allowing swift interdiction at any point of intrusion, LaPenna said.

Alternative Optical Comms

Airbus subsidiary Tesat announced plans in 2018 to work with the Institute for Communication and Navigation of the German Aerospace Center to establish a high-capacity optical terminal to speed up data transfer from ISS to the ground.

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...