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Super-fast lasers to talk to satellites, spacecraft and the Moon

Jun. 29, 2023.
2 min. read Interactions

Dealing with increased space data rates

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Amara Angelica

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Amara Angelica is Senior Editor, Mindplex

Laser beam to space (credit: International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research)

Researchers at the University of Western Australia plan to use super-fast lasers to send high-speed data to satellites, spacecraft, and NASA’s Artemis missions to the Moon. The planned TeraNet system will be 1000 times faster than the radio communications currently used to transfer data to satellites.

Project leader Associate Professor Sascha Schediwy, from The University of Western Australia node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) and an expert in optical communications, said the network will be made up of two fixed ground stations and a mobile station.

Optical systems needed to handle Increased data rates

Schediwy said one of the strongest drivers for increased data rates is the rise of advanced Earth observation and imaging satellites carrying “hyperspectral cameras.” These satellites take high-resolution images of the Earth’s surface used for disaster management and national defence, generating huge amounts of data.

An optical comms terminal peeks out of an observatory-style dome.

TeraNet laser system (credit: International Space Centre)

“Currently, the data on some of those satellites needs to be compressed or thrown away, because the capacity is not there to downlink all that data,” Schediwy said in a statement. “So by expanding to optical communications, with a ground station network to support them, we’ll be able to use them to their full capability.”

The $6.5 million project has received a $4.4 million grant from the Australian Space Agency and $500,000 each from the Western Australian Government and The University of Western Australia. The network is due to be completed in 2026.

The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) is a joint venture between Curtin University and The University of Western Australia with support and funding from the State Government of Western Australia. Goonhilly Earth Station has been the pioneering home of satellite communications since 1962. Thales Australia is a trusted partner of the Australian Defence Force and is also present in commercial sectors ranging from air traffic management and ground transport systems to security systems and services.

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