Press Release

Astrolight performs the first operational test of the mobile optical ground station for LEO satellites

By SpaceRef Editor
August 10, 2021
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Astrolight, a start-up company specializing in free-space optical communication systems, has performed initial long-range ground test of its mobile optical ground station for LEO satellites, achieving Gigabit per second data rate over 10-kilometer distance. The test was performed by transmitting modulated optical signal at 1550 nm to the retroreflector located on Vilnius TV tower, which reflected the signal back to the receiver. Visible wavelength laser beacon was used for initial telescope alignment. The system was able to achieve better than 10 arcsec pointing accuracy to acquire and track the signal. Although communication distance was far less than a typical link distance to LEO satellite, the impact of atmospheric turbulence under test conditions was comparable or even more severe than in LEO-to-ground scenario, thus allowing to evaluate system performance under similar conditions with respect to atmospheric effects. Overall, results of conducted tests demonstrated that a ground station built from commercial off-the-shelf components can be used for free-space optical communication.

“This marks the first successful milestone in our effort to develop a scalable and cost-effective ground station for free space optical communication”, Astrolight co-founder and CEO, Vidmantas Tomkus says. The company plans to start tests with actual satellites by end of this year.

Most of Earth Observation satellites are still using X-band to download their images, but as the demand for data and number of satellites are constantly increasing, the limited radio-frequency spectrum becomes a bottleneck for further growth. Optical-frequency spectrum offers almost unlimited bandwidth and thus could greatly contribute to solving the data throughput problem of LEO satellites. The main challenge of optical communication for satellites are clouds – lasers simply cannot work their way through optically opaque materials. Thankfully, satellites can cover a vast area on Earth, so by increasing the number of ground stations globally, the overall access availability could be significantly increased, reaching similar level as that for radio-frequency communications.

“You really need a global network of distributed optical ground stations operating in low-cloud-cover regions to overcome this problem. We can no longer rely on existing astronomical observatories, but must build a new network, specifically designed for satellite communications with customer needs in mind. That is why Astrolight is following a commercial off-the-shelf approach to build its optical ground stations, so that in the end the cost of operating such a network could be competitive in the market“, Astrolight co-founder and COO, Laurynas Maciulis, says.

Astrolight was founded in 2019 with a vision to build a global optical communications network that will provide high throughput and enhanced security data link services for commercial and governmental satellite operators. The founding team has more than 10 years of experience in fields of photonics and satellite telecommunications. Astrolight is currently based in Science and Technology Park of Institute of Physics – the cluster with highest concentration of laser and photonics related technology companies in Vilnius, Lithuania.

SpaceRef staff editor.