European Space Agency

Optical communications: ready for space


On June 9 and 10, 2015, a workshop on Optical Space Communication Systems was held at ESTEC, ESA's technical facility located in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. About 150 participants from industry, academia, and ESA attended the workshop, representing current and future satellite operators, optical system integrators and terminal manufacturers, researchers and delegation members from ESA member states.

Optical space technologies have matured and could be ready to be applied in commercial satellite systems, bringing with them significant advantages such as:

  • higher data rates, 
  • better security /low probability of intercept, 
  • no restriction for frequency use,
  • lower payload volume and mass 
  • less power consumption requirements.

ESA hosted this workshop to ignite the discussion on related system aspects. The main objectives and focus of this was to

  • explore operator needs for future satellites employing optical technology, 
  • explore the current state of the art of optical satellite terminals and systems and see how to exploit developing market needs, 
  • discuss future R&D areas and new applications such as space quantum communications
  • help ESA develop a roadmap for future research and investment in this important topic in order to benefit the industry of our member states.

After listening to the priorities of industry and delegates from member states, ESA is in the process of forming a coherent future strategy to see how to leverage past developments and address optical space communication system issues. Among the first steps will be an Invitation to Tender (ITT) for a preliminary system study titled “Towards the all Optical Satellite System” along with several focused ARTES activities on related topics.

"The large participation from industry and the lively discussion this event has generated is a measure of its success” said Michael Hadjitheodosiou, Future Systems Engineer at TIA and organiser of the workshop. "We managed to bring together all the major European actors with an interest in this area and also give them a first taste of the new mega-constellation activities currently under way, having secured participation from not only major European operators but also new players such as OneWeb, Laser Light Communications, and FaceBook Infrastructure. This could help kick start European activities to address the requirements of these new systems and generate significant growth in this area."

Published 17 June 2015
Last updated at 18 June 2015 - 15:14