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Astronauts and the ISS in orbit of the planet Earth. Solar system. Science fiction. Elements of this image furnished by Nasa

Astronauts’ internet speeds boosted as ISS receives new antenna

Image credit: Alteraposto | Dreamstime

A UK-built device capable of home broadband speeds, which will enable astronauts to communicate with loved ones and experts on Earth, has reached its destination the International Space Station (ISS).

The Columbus Ka-band Terminal (COLKa), a communications antenna, arrived on a Cygnus supply ship shortly after 9am on February 18. It is the UK’s first contribution to the ISS, which has housed international astronauts since 2000.

According to the UK Space Agency, the upgrade will ensure faster communications that are independent from the Nasa system already installed onboard the space station.

The contract for designing and building the fridge-sized device was awarded to MDA Space and Robotics Limited, a global communications and information company based in Harwell, Oxfordshire.

“The COLKa programme has firmly established MDA in the UK as a leading provider of high-quality space equipment, positioning us for continued business growth and new jobs in both communications and space sensor markets,” said David Kenyon, managing director at MDA UK.

Handout photo issued by the ESA of COLka (Columbus Ka-band Terminal) undergoing testing in the Hertz test chamber at the European Space Agency in The Netherlands

Handout photo issued by the ESA of COLka (Columbus Ka-band Terminal) undergoing testing in the Hertz test chamber at the European Space Agency in the Netherlands

Image credit: ESA/PA Wire

The device is expected to be installed later this year outside the Columbus module, the ISS science laboratory. To install it, astronauts will have to venture out of the ISS during a spacewalk to mount it on the module’s meteoroids protection panel and connect wires to the unit before it can be switched on.

COLKa’s high-speed radio link will transmit scientific data to stations in Europe and the world who are all eager to get the latest results from their experiments, the European Space Agency (ESA) said.

The device will send signals from the ISS - which orbits at around 155 miles (250km) above Earth - even further into space where they will be picked up by European satellites 22,000 miles (35,400km) above the planet’s surface.

COLka (Columbus Ka-band Terminal) undergoing testing in the Hertz test chamber at the European Space Agency in The Netherlands

Image credit: M Cowan/ESA/PA Wire

According to ESA, COLKa promises speeds of up to 50mbps, allowing “astronauts and researchers to benefit from a direct link with Europe at home broadband speeds”.

Dr Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “This is yet another example of the UK economy benefiting - through investment, jobs and new skills - from our continued collaboration with the European Space Agency.”

The UK Space Agency also said the knowledge gained from designing, building and running COLKa could be used for another communications package being designed for the Lunar Gateway, a small spaceship currently being built that will orbit around the Moon.

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