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SmallCAT Laser Terminal Demonstrates Effective Space-Earth Communication in LEO
As the demand for space-based data continues to escalate, advancements like AAC Clyde Space's deployment of the SmallCAT laser terminal herald a new era in space communication. This long promised technology could revolutionize how data is transmitted from space to Earth, offering faster, more secure, and more efficient communication solutions.
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SmallCAT Laser Terminal Demonstrates Effective Space-Earth Communication in LEO
by Sophie Jenkins
Edinburgh UK (SPX) Jan 30, 2024

In a significant advancement in space communication technology, AAC Clyde Space, in collaboration with TNO and other partners, have together demonstrated the functionality of a compact laser satellite communications terminal, known as SmallCAT, in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). This accomplishment marks a crucial step in validating laser satellite communication technology under the challenging conditions of spaceflight.

AAC Clyde Space, a pioneer in small satellite technology, contributed essential electronics and firmware to the laser communication terminal. This collaboration underscores the company's commitment to staying at the forefront of space tech development. Luis Gomes, CEO of AAC Clyde Space, emphasized the growing demand for direct laser communication between satellites and Earth, catering to diverse sectors. "This achievement points towards the future of space-based communication," Gomes stated, highlighting the strategic direction of the company.

The development of this satellite communication terminal was a joint effort. The project was led by TNO and included AAC Hyperion, a subsidiary of the AAC Group based in the Netherlands specializing in optical communications, responsible for the onboard electronics, drivers, and software. Gooch and Housego contributed the laser transmitter. Financial backing for the project came from the Netherlands Space Office (NSO) through the ESA ARTES ScyLight Programme and the Dutch Ministry of Defense's innovation budget, with additional co-funding from TNO.

A noteworthy component of the project was the delivery of AAC Hyperion's gigabit detector, the GD200, for the optical ground station in The Hague. This ground station successfully detected signals from the terminal aboard the Norwegian NORSAT-TD satellite, launched in April 2023. This successful detection is a testament to the terminal's capabilities and the effectiveness of the technology in real-world space conditions.

In response to the growing commercial and governmental demands for high-quality, timely data from space, AAC Hyperion, along with its Dutch partner FSO Instruments, is commercializing a version of the laser communication terminal, CubeCAT. Measuring just 10 x 10 x 10 cm and weighing 1.3 kg, CubeCAT is ideally suited for use on nano satellites, offering a compact and efficient solution for space communication.

The use of laser communication technologies in space has gained traction as an alternative to traditional radio-frequency communication. By operating in the infra-red wavelength band, laser communication avoids the limitations of standard radio frequency technologies, significantly increasing the transmission capabilities of satellites by factors of 10 to 100. Moreover, laser communication links offer enhanced security features. The reduced size, weight, and power requirements of laser communication systems are crucial benefits in the space sector, where such efficiencies are highly valued.

As the demand for space-based data continues to escalate, advancements like AAC Clyde Space's deployment of the SmallCAT laser terminal herald a new era in space communication. This long promised technology could revolutionize how data is transmitted from space to Earth, offering faster, more secure, and more efficient communication solutions.

Related Links
AAC Clyde Space
Space Technology News - Applications and Research

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