Bartolomeo platform
Artist's concept of the Bartolomeo platform installed on the exterior of the Columbus module on the ISS. Credit: Airbus Defence and Space

SAN FRANCISCO –Xenesis, a laser communications startup, plans to conduct a space-based demonstration of its Xen-Hub Optical Communications terminal in 2021 on Bartolomeo, the Airbus Defense and Space external research platform on the International Space Station.

If that demonstration is successful, Airbus and Xenesis could work together to provide space station customers and Bartolomeo platform users with commercial access to Xenesis’ ten-gigabit optical communications service.

“We chose Airbus due to their position on the ISS,” Mark LaPenna, Xenesis founder and chief executive, told SpaceNews. “They’re positioned favorably for our mission objectives and the process is completely turnkey for us … So, Xenesis can do what we do best, commercialize our services.”

Chicago-based Xenesis emerged from stealth mode in 2018 with plans to sell a small optical transceiver developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Xenesis announced a deal earlier this month with Hartwell Capitol Consulting of Woodbridge, Virginia, to sell the optical transceivers in key markets.

Bartolomeo, a platform to host commercial payloads outside the Columbus module, is scheduled to travel to the space station in March on a SpaceX  Falcon 9 rocket.

The Xenesis demonstration “is precisely the kind of mission the Bartolomeo platform and all-in-one service model were designed for,” Ron Dunklee, president and CEO of Houston-based Airbus DS Space Systems, said by email. “This relationship allows Xenesis to focus on their proprietary technology development while Airbus provides the guidance, support and infrastructure necessary to host the system on the ISS.”

As part of that mission, Airbus will host the Xen-Hub terminal on the platform and support Xenesis through certification, integration and flight processing, including NASA’s stringent ISS safety review process. Airbus officials declined to comment on the price Xenesis will pay for its services.

“This cooperation between Airbus and Xenesis exemplifies the complementary relationship between commercial space infrastructure providers and cutting-edge technology developers coming together to provide significant advancement in the commercialization of low Earth orbit,” Dunklee said.

If Xenesis succeeds in demonstrating reliable optical communications from ISS, that service could be in high demand.

“Data is by far the most significant product, in terms of volume and content, currently generated in low Earth orbit,” Dunklee said. “High speed/high volume communications, especially at the data rates and low latency envisioned by Xenesis Xen-Hub, can not only better support the higher data users now in low Earth orbit, but has the potential to open up low Earth orbit to an entirely new class of scientific and commercial applications.”

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...