European Space Agency

ScyLight overview

Optical Communication Technologies are considered to be one of the next major revolutions in satellite communication, bringing unprecedentedly high levels of transmission rates, data security and resilience in the next decade.

The commercial take-up of optical technologies is believed to be the next breakthrough in the satcom market arena, addressing the need for the ever-increasing data rate and secure communication. Today’s developments and early implementations cannot demonstrate its full capabilities, as the optical solution is mainly used in non-optimized systems, focusing on one particular area only (e.g. high data rate transmission from one point to another).

Although the strong position of the European and Canadian Industry has been demonstrated, the technology gap is still very large for the commercial use of optical applications.

In order to support European and Canadian industry, ESA has launched a comprehensive and tailored programme, called ScyLight (SeCure and Laser communication Technology, pronounced "skylight"), taking into account potential technologies, systems and applications.

The programme is dealing, in different thematic lines, with the following overarching objectives: address the development, demonstration and utilisation of innovative optical technologies for satellite communication as well as new market opportunities, and support industry to develop or seize related market opportunities.

In pursuit of this high-level objective, ESA will perform system studies and market analyses to derive system/sub-system requirements for optical technologies and to understand the needs of the end-users.

The derived information will lead to the identification of the critical elements for an ESA technology roadmap on optical communication technologies. 

In parallel, ScyLight provides the tools to support industry-initiated activities from dedicated studies and technology developments up to proof of concept/demonstration missions, showing the maturity of the innovation to potential end-user communities.

Industry may initiate such activities by responding to the always open ARTES ScyLight Call for Proposals.

The programme will concentrate European and Canadian efforts on optical communication technologies in the following areas:

  • Optical Communication Technology at System Level
  • Optical Communication Terminal Technology
  • Intra-Satellite Photonics/Optical Payloads
  • Quantum Cryptography Technologies and initial services demonstration

Thematic lines

The programme implementation is organised in four thematic lines:

Line 1: Common System and Technologies Activities

This Line covers under ESA lead market and system studies, including optical transmission/propagation studies, as well as ESA coordination of user and expert groups) to define the roadmap and derive ESA ITTs including development activities on critical and/or commonly required components and their validation, evaluation and in-orbit verification.

Line 2: Optical Communication Terminals and components

This Line covers industry-initiated developments, from market studies up to in-orbit validation and/or demonstration of Optical Communication Terminals and/or its components, including developments for inter-satellite, direct-to-ground and airborne communications. The Line also covers developments related to optical ground stations required for direct-to-ground and
high-data-rate uplinks.

Line 3: Intra-Satellite Photonics / Optical Payloads

This Line covers industry-initiated studies and the development as well as in-orbit and service demonstration of enabling technologies required for intra-satellite photonics and optical payloads for the satcom market.

Line 4: Quantum Cryptography Technologies

This Line is dedicated to Quantum Cryptography technologies and covers the related developments as well as in-orbit and service demonstration, including Quantum Key Generation and Distribution systems, and the demonstration of related end-to-end systems. (ESA-initiated ITTs as well as industry-initiated activities) 

* * * * *

In order to support European and Canadian industry in the most effective manner, ESA will elaborate its technology roadmap on optical communication technology in a workplan together with stakeholders in that area, e.g. Industry, Operators, Service Providers, Satellite Manufactures, Research Institutes and other experts in the field.

Participating States

The newly created ARTES ScyLight Element is, as of today, supported by 14 ESA Member States.
For all activities within ARTES ScyLight Element an authorisation from Member State’s national delegation is required and it is recommend to get in contact to ensure support.


  • Austria
  • Canada
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Luxembourg
  • Norway
  • The Netherlands
  • Romania
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom

Open call for proposal

Program: ScyLight
Open date: Thursday, March 30, 2017
Closing date: Thursday, December 31, 2020
Reference Number: 17.1TT.67
Tender number: AO8893
Last Update Date: Tuesday, November 12, 2019
Update reason: Closing Date Extended