Laser satellite establishes gigabit data links in space

August 08, 2019 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Laser satellite establishes gigabit data links in space
With the launch of the EDRS-C communications satellite on 6 August 2019, a milestone has been reached for the European Data Relay Satellite System (EDRS): the foundation has been laid for a worldwide unique network of geostationary relay satellites that can transport data volumes of up to 1.8 gigabits per second to Earth using laser terminals.

EDRS-C is mainly used for the fast transfer of data from Earth observation satellites. In this way, the satellite ensures that data recorded worldwide from the Sentinel satellites of the European Earth observation programme Copernicus reaches the user faster. The EDRS-C satellite, built in Germany, weighs 3.2 tons and has a planned lifetime of 15 years. The control of the payloads and the EDRS-C satellite is carried out by DLR's German Space Operations Centre near Munich on behalf of Airbus.

Hitherto, satellites are connected individually to one or more ground stations. With the development of EDRS, the operators are making a paradigm shift towards an optically networked satellite infrastructure with higher security and bandwidth. "This enables EDRS to transmit the captured images and data in near real time," says Walther Pelzer, DLR Executive Board member responsible for Space Management.

Earth observation satellites provided an increasingly accurate picture of our planet, our environment and our climate. But they also produced more and more data in less time. At the same time, these data must be made available very quickly so that they can optimally prepare and accompany decision-making processes.

At a live demonstration in Brussels on 10 July 2019, the European "data highway in space" had already demonstrated its functionality: Within a few minutes, data from the Earth observation satellite Sentinel-1 was transmitted to the ground via a laser link in order to track ships and possible oil leaks. Normally, such a transmission would take several hours.

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