Europe's space laser communications system will launch this week

EDRS will transmit data at 1.8Gbps via laser between satellites

A "space data highway" that links satellites using high-speed laser transmissions should take a big step forward this week with the launch of the Eutelsat 9B satellite.

The satellite's main role will be downlinking hundreds of TV channels to viewers in Europe, but it will also carry the first node in the European Space Agency's European Data Relay System (EDRS).

EDRS is an attempt to provide a high-speed interconnect between satellites. If it works, scientists will be able to gather data from low-orbiting satellites much more quickly than they can today.

The data incurs delays today because the satellites fly relatively close to earth so they can collect the images and measurements that scientists need.

This low orbit (400 to 800 kilometers) means they're only in range of their ground stations for about 10 minutes during a 90-minute orbit, so the data has to be stored on board until it can be delivered.

EDRS sends the data to a satellite in geostationary orbit, roughly 36,000 kilometers above earth. From that higher perch, the geostationary satellite can stay in contact with the scientific satellite for much of its orbit, and be in constant contact with a ground station.

"We want [images] as fast as possible, and as many of them as possible, and in the best quality we can have," said Michael Witting, the EDRS project manager, during a briefing earlier this month.

edrs high speed feeder link relays to europe European Space Agency

Illustration of the EDRS system

NASA uses a similar arrangement to stay in touch with the International Space Station, which is also in a low-Earth orbit. But NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TRDS) fleet uses radio communications. EDRS uses a laser to send the data up to the geostationary satellite.

The European Space Agency likens the system to a highly accurate telescope, because the upper satellite has to lock onto a laser beam coming from a moving satellite 45,000 kilometers below. It requires great precision, but the ESA is confident it could work at even greater distances.

"From the testing we’ve done, we know it can operate up to 75,000km," Witting said.

The lasers carry the data at up to 1.8Gbits per second. The signal is sent back to Earth from Eutelsat 9B on a ka-band radio link. When fully deployed, the EDRS system will carry roughly 50 terabytes of data per day from space back to earth, according to European Space Agency estimates.

The system is expected to first be used this summer when EDRS relays signals from the European Commission's Copernicus Sentinel-1 and -2 satellites. They're tasked with high-resolution radar and optical imaging of land and sea, including for emergency services.

The EDRS system on Eutelsat 9B will be operated by Airbus Space and Defense as a commercial service. A second satellite dedicated to EDRS is scheduled to be launched in 2017.

The system was tested successfully in 2014 when the Sentinel-1 satellite sent an image back to earth via Inmarsat's Alphasat. The latter satellite carried an older laser communications terminal, and the transmission was intended to prove the system could work.

fibre optics in the sky J Mai/ESA

Staff at ESA’s Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt watch as the Sentinel-1 and Inmarsat’s Alphasat linked up using laser signals across almost 36 000 kms on Nov. 28, 2014

Join the newsletter!

Or
Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

James Cook University - Master of Data Science Online Course

Learn more >

Mobile

Sansai 6-Outlet Power Board + 4-Port USB Charging Station

Learn more >

Exec

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?