Europe will go ahead with the construction of a laser-based satellite data relay system following a successful test of the technology last year.
Confirmed today by the European Space Agency and Airbus Defence and Space, who are jointly managing the project, the European Data Relay System will take advantage of two geostationary satellites equipped with laser communication terminals to facilitate real-time data exchange between low-Earth orbit satellites and ground-based control centres.
Currently, remote observation satellites can only download data when they reach a position above a ground station which prevents real time data evaluation, crucial for example during natural disasters.
The laser terminals will enable sending data from spacecraft some hundreds of kilometres above the Earth to geostationary satellites at the altitude of 37,000km. Hanging over a fixed spot with a constant view of a ground station, the geostationary satellites will stream the data back to Earth immediately after is has been captured.
The laser terminals at heart of the systems were developed by German tech company Tesat in cooperation with the German Aerospace Centre and are capable of transmitting up to 1.8Gb of data per second.
A demonstration payload was sent to space aboard Inmarsat's Alphasat geostationary satellite and successfuly demonstrated its capabilities in an experiment in November when it relayed images captured by the European Space Agency's remote observation Sentinel-1A spacecraft, orbiting at the distance of more than 40,000km.
The first fully operational payload of the constellation will be launched in mid-2015 aboard Eutelsat's 9B spacecraft. The second terminal will follow soon after on board of Avanti’s HYLAS-3 spacecraft.