Ground and Airborne segments
Advanced reliable and secure communication networks are a high priority with the continuing surge in data traffic worldwide. Optical communications using laser beams has been around for some time and will prove to be the technology that we need to adopt if we wish to maintain data transfer continuity with enhanced security and speed. While radio frequency-based communication is still sufficiently capable in terms of capacity, the market is getting ready to complement this technology for even higher data traffic and much better security.
Laser satellite communication technologies are the next revolution in communications, complementing existing technologies and bringing unprecedented transmission rates, data security and resilience, to meet the requirements of businesses and institutions in the decades to come.
Airbus Group is responding to this challenge, based on system level heritage aggregated in over more than two decades. The European Data Relay Service (EDRS) by Airbus was the first operational and fully functional service that uses Laser terminals in orbit for data transfer. Within the Airbus, the domain of Laser communications is managed through the Optical Communications Unified Roadmap.
Airbus DS NL is part of this roadmap and is well-positioned to develop solutions for laser communication between ground-space and air-space. Our focus is on developing cost effective Optical Ground Stations and Airborne Terminals for any customer in the international market, capitalizing on our 100% successful, high-tech heritage spanning over 50 years in the international space industry.
With this portfolio, we are complimentary to other Airbus divisions and our colleagues at TESAT who are all set to make Airbus’ ambition reality.
In the future with Free Space Optical laser communications, the connections between space and earth are up next. This type of communication contains an additional challenge on top of the very precise pointing that is required for optical inter-satellite Links (OISLs). Our atmosphere, which protects us from dangerous radiation and the vacuum of space, also acts as a distorting barrier for the finely conditioned laser beams that are required to transmit large amounts of data with high degrees of reliability. On top of that, the weather which we experience below the atmosphere can also be a major disruptor. These two aspects make the ground-space connection a specific challenge in two fields; technological and business-wise!
While we develop technical measures for compensating the atmospheric impact on laser beams, service providers in addition need to adopt a business model to make full use of ground-space laser communications, avoiding cloud cover limitations: more stations will be needed at various locations compared to the RF business model. Corresponding upfront investments require Laser Communications ground infrastructure to provide sufficient growth potential on aggregated data rates, to allow for cost-efficient adaptation to future space terminals with higher data rate capacity. A similar challenge holds for airborne-space laser communications.
Key Benefits of Laser Communications
Meet the growing demands for:
- Capacity – Laser technology is vastly superior to RF technology in providing a huge leap in capacity
- Security – Lasers in the applicable wavelengths are invisible and impossible to trace, intercept or detect
- Reliability – Lasers can be applied without bandwidth congestion or licensing issues
Our solutions are also compatible with Quantum Key Distribution services. Using LaserPorts at secure customer hubs, quantum keys can be exchanged securely through photons using LEO satellites.
- AO based OGS for fiber-coupled QKD receiving with high availability (1550 nm)
- Low-complex, low-cost OGS for free space QKD receiving in night-time only (850 nm)
Airborne Laser Terminals: “UltraAir”
UltraAir will enable air-to-GEO optical communications for airborne platforms (like the Airbus MRTT, A440M, C295 & Eurodrone) and to exchange data using the Airbus Space Data highway in the most secure possible way with extremely high data rates.
The UltraAir project consists of 2 major phases;
- Technology demonstrator (ongoing)
- Prototype to final product (2022-2025)