Laser SatCom Development – Passing ESA CDR

In February 2019, Space Inventor entered into an agreement with ESA regarding the making of an optical laser communication terminal for micro and nano-satellites.

Since the agreement, Space Inventor has developed a detailed design of both the Laser Space terminal and the ground station, which has both a telescope and a receiver. The Laser Space terminal has been built as a prototype which has been tested in Space Inventor’s optical laboratory. This has proven that it is possible to realize the project and the project has passed ESA’s Critical Design Review. 

The next step is to build a final product which then shall be tested and pass a Qualification Campaign. The Qualification Campaign is expected to commence in November 2020, and the project is expected to complete in February 2021. 

By using the New Space approach, Space Inventor will be able to provide the optical laser communication system at an affordable price. Moreover, Space Inventor will be able to offer the system in the characteristic compact, modular design which makes the modules easy to integrate in different sizes of platforms. 

Space Inventor is expecting to be able to supply optical laser communication systems to interested customers from the second quarter in 2021.

Space Inventor’s Optical Engineer Fatemeh Jessen-Hansen working in the laboratory

Why develop optical laser communication systems for micro and nano-satellites?

According to Space Works Enterprises, the micro and nano-satellite market is experiencing large commercial growth, and it is estimated that around 2,600 micro and nano-satellites will be launched in the upcoming five years. Using radio frequencies for data transfer means that a license from ITU must be obtained to operate a satellite – some frequency licenses might prove more difficult to obtain than others. By developing an optical laser communication system for micro and nano-satellites, Space Inventor will be able to provide a system which does not operate in a frequency range that requires coordination by ITU. Thereby, it will become faster and easier to receive approval for satellite launch and operation.

A peek of the test set-up in Space Inventor’s laboratory

More advantages of optical communication systems

Besides allowing faster and easier approval for launching, optical systems provide much higher data throughput by using less power per transmitted bit. Power is a limited resource for a satellite, especially for small and low-cost micro and nano-satellites. Optical communication systems can accommodate the issue of power as a limited source as optical communication systems use less power to provide higher data throughput. Moreover, a laser communication terminal will offer higher protection against interception compared to traditional radio transmitters.