Written by Mandy Berndt
The European Space Agency has announced that the first European laser communication satellite will soon be launched into space.
The Laser Communication Demonstration Mission (LCDM) will test an advanced form of laser communication at low Earth orbit. The laser will transmit information twice the speed of conventional radio.
Using laser beam technology is very fast and cost-effective and allows communication up to thousands of kilometers between two observatories, according to ESA. (For reference, a short distance could be as long as eight hundred kilometers.)
LCDM is the first important step toward establishing laser communication at LEO (low Earth orbit) satellites that can connect small, extremely dense data sets in terms of bits per second.
A number of recent global breakthroughs mean it is possible to communicate large numbers of bits per second with low bandwidth.
Europe’s ROADS technology uses a laser component for distance measurements. ROADS links will enable greater gains in broadband communications, communications technology, and network infrastructures. (John Arnold/ESA)
A similar experiment by the European Space Agency was the first laser-based network used in space. The Cyclotron in space was launched in 1988 and was the first known use of lasers in satellites.
“LCDM can not only demonstrate the technological basis of future ground-based lasers but can also improve our insight into communications in micro- and nanoscale data and devices,” Roberto Fumagalli, the ESA’s member director for science and space applications, said in a statement.
The future of the project lies in expanding it and building two more satellites, with a cost of around $5 million each. ESA funded the first two constellations for the mission.
LCDM will “test the safety and operationalability of laser communication at small satellites and ground stations,” according to the ESA.
The satellites will have power and instrumentation for laser communications, but don’t have an antenna, according to a mission description, which adds that it “will not be used for satellite-to-satellite or group-to-group communications.”
The satellites will be launched from Europe on board a L- class rocket. Two proof tests are scheduled over the next seven months to assess the satellite’s functionality and ensure the equipment can withstand launch from a European launch vehicle.
In the second stage of the mission, the satellites will be switched on, and in 2019 the ESA will use the mission to propose proposals for government-funded laser communication in the future.