The SpaceDataHighway system — the world’s first ‘optical fiber in the sky’ based on cutting-edge laser technology — has achieved 10,000 successful laser connections — the reliability rate has reached 99.8 percent and, during the first one-and-a-half years of routine operations, these successful connections have downloaded more than 500 terabytes of data.
The system’s satellites are designed to lock on to low-orbiting satellites via laser and collect their data as they travel in LEO scanning the Earth. From its position in geostationary orbit, the SpaceDataHighway acts as a relay, transmitting the large quantities of data acquired by these observation satellites down to Earth in near-real time at a speed of 1.8 Gbit/s, instead of storing the data on board until the satellites pass over their own ground station.
The establishment of the laser connections is controlled by the SpaceDataHighway’s Mission Operation Center, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at Airbus premises near Munich. Operators receive transmission requests from customers, program the space and ground segment and monitor the performance of communications. Each day, the SpaceDataHighway is capable of relaying as much as 40 terabytes of data that has been acquired by observation satellites, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or aircraft, to Earth. It is currently used by the European Union’s Copernicus program; however, its capacities could be used by many more customers.
In 2019, the system will also relay information from the Columbus module of the International Space Station (ISS). From 2020, the Pleiades Neo satellites will start to use the SpaceDataHighway.
The SpaceDataHighway is a public-private partnership between the European Space Agency and Airbus, which today owns and operates the system, with the laser communication terminals developed by Tesat-Spacecom and the DLR German Space Administration. EDRS-A, the first SpaceDataHighway relay satellite launched in 2016, offers coverage from the American East Coast to India. A second satellite, EDRS-C, will be launched in 2019 and will double the system’s capacity as well as extend the coverage and redundancy of the system. Airbus intends to expand the SpaceDataHighway with a third node, ERDS-D, to be positioned over the Asia-Pacific region.
Hughes Boulnois, Head of the SpaceDataHighway program at Airbus Defence and Space, said that the total amount of data transferred is equivalent to around 100 million MP3 music files, but the transmission capacity of the SpaceDataHighway goes far beyond that.