AAC Clyde Space to commercialize TNO’s laser terminal for satellite communication

Laser satellite communication
22 May 2024

AAC Clyde Space has secured rights to leverage TNO’s cutting-edge optical technology for manufacturing and distributing laser satellite communication terminals, marking a significant milestone achieved through a newly inked license agreement. This advanced technology facilitates the transmission of satellite-generated data to earth using laser beams, promising unparalleled speed and security in broadband connectivity, far surpassing conventional radio-frequency communication methods. Additionally, with FSO Instruments serving as the supplier core optical component of the terminal, also derived from TNO’s innovations, this paves the way for the establishment of an international supply chain for laser satellite communication terminals.

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'This new collaboration underscores TNO's dedication to accelerate the transfer of our technology, fostering the growth of optical satellite communication capabilities in the Netherlands and bolstering a robust network within Europe and NATO.'

Kees Buijsrogge

Director TNO Space

Commercially viable laser communication terminal

The agreement grants space technology company AAC Clyde Space the right to use TNO’s laser communication terminal technology for a period of twenty years. Measuring 10 x 10 x 10 cm these terminals are ideally suited for small satellites, which AAC Clyde Space specializes in. Their aim is to make a commercially viable laser communication terminal for small satellites which can be produced on a large scale.

Supply chain

To fully develop the terminal AAC Clyde Space needs additional optical technology, which FSO Instruments will provide. This Dutch optical instrumentation company recently entered in a similar license agreement to build on TNO’s technology and expertise in optical heads, optical benches and a system for coarse pointing alignment. By cross licensing TNO’s optical technologies it establishes a supply chain for the production of small satellite communication terminals, which is the first of its kind in the Netherlands.

kleine satellietcommunicatieterminal
Laser communication terminal for small satellites (source: FSO Instruments)

Faster and more secure

Laser satellite communication works by forming and transmitting laser beams across large distances. It provides links between ground stations, satellites, aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles. By transmitting through the infra-red wavelength band, laser communication can achieve data transfer speeds of 100 to 1000 times faster than radio frequencies, currently used for communications. Moreover, laser communication links are seen as more secure because very narrow optical laser beams are used instead of wide radio signals.

'Advances in high data volume payloads such as Earth Observation payloads for CubeSats and SmallSats have highlighted the need for improved downlink capability in small form factors. And so the global demand for laser satellite communication applications is on an upward trajectory. Through this partnership we are poised to both capitalise on this demand and strengthen the Dutch reputation internationally for innovative New Space solutions.'

Luis Gomes

CEO AAC Clyde Space

Recent successful demonstration

TNO has been developing and building optical instrumentation for use in space for decades. In January 2024 a successful link was established between the terminal on a Norwegian satellite and the TNO optical ground station in The Hague. This successful field test marked a world first for fast optical communication to Earth using a small and lightweight optical terminal with Dutch technology. The agreement with AAC Clyde Space is focused on industrializing and commercializing that terminal.

Technology on the rise

Due to the increase in commercial and government data demands, laser communication technology is currently on the rise. In the near future the global demand for laser satellite communication applications and components is expected to grow exponentially.

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