ESA awards TNO with contract for in orbit demonstration of laser communication terminal for faster data transmission

Thema:
Space and scientific instrumentation
5 January 2021

ESA has awarded TNO an ARTES ScyLight contract to perform an in orbit demonstration (IOD), called SmallCAT (Small Communication Active Terminal), of a direct to earth laser communication terminal.

Background

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SmallCAT Laser Terminal (Rendered image)

TNO Space wants to pursue activities that have societal and economic impact. One of our aims is to enable secure broadband connectivity that will support the growing demand for data and increase communication efficiency. Next to that we want to stimulate economic growth in the Netherlands and Europe by enabling companies to realise new products, generate new business and improve their competitive position, based on our technology. SmallCAT is one example of these goals in practice.

Optical satellite communication

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TNO Optical Ground Station used to communicate with SmallCAT

SmallCAT consists of a <1U laser terminal module called CubeCAT which will be embarked onto the NORSAT-TD satellite. SmallCat will demonstrate a 0.3Gbit/s, CCSDS 03K compliant product providing high speed downlink capabilities from small-nano LEO Satellites. The CubeCAT module is mounted into a highly damped and hysteresis free suspension system developed by TNO that will allow to withstand the NORSAT-TD satellite launch loads.

European connection

SmallCAT will be a hosted payload on the Norsat-TD Spacecraft, which is commissioned and operated by the Norwegian Space Agency (NOSA) and which will be launched early 2022. SmallCAT will communicate with the TNO GoCAT gigabit class optical ground station demonstrator that has been installed at a TNO location in The Hague, The Netherlands. To demonstrate the inter-operability of the CubeCAT laser communication technology, SmallCAT will also be used to connect to other European optical ground stations. The future commercial CubeCAT product will also combine a compact Course Pointing Assembly which is currently under development in a parallel project.

Project partners

SmallCAT has been developed in a consortium led by TNO and includes the Dutch company Hyperion Technologies B.V (electronics) and the UK company Gooch & Housego (laser transmitter). The final CubeCAT system will meet a competitive recurring price target for series production by Hyperion Technologies B.V.

Project funding

SmallCAT is supported by the Netherlands Ministry of Defence and the Netherlands Space Office and jointly funded by ESAs ARTES Strategic Programme Line ScyLight and TNO together with the companies involved in the project.

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