ESA Optical Communications and the ScyLight Roadmap

Presentation by Zoran Sodnik, Optical Communication Technology Manager, European Space Agency.

In 1975, ESA started the first technology developments for optical communication, which eventually led in the 1980s to an industrial activity with Matra Marconi Space (FR), now Airbus, to develop the Semiconductor Inter-satellite Laser communication EXperiment (SILEX). End of 2001 the first SILEX optical inter-satellite communication was demonstrated between optical terminals on-board SPOT-4, an Earth observation satellite in LEO and ARTEMIS, a telecommunication satellite in GEO (data rate 50 Mbps over 38000 km).

In 2006 the Japanese Space Agency’s Optical Inter-satellite Communication Experimental Test Satellite (OICETS) joined optical communication links with ARTEMIS. In 2008 the German space agency (DLR) demonstrated the first LEO-LEO ISL between the TerraSAR-X (DE) and NFIRE (US) satellites (data rate 5.6 Gbps over 5000 km) using optical communication terminals developed by Tesat (DE).

In 2014 Europe’s second generation optical communication system was deployed. It demonstrated inter-satellite links between Sentinel 1a, an Earth observation satellite in LEO, and Alphasat, a telecommunication satellite in GEO (data rate 1.8 Gbps over 38000 km). Since 2017 the European Data Relay System (EDRS) is established, which is the first commercially operated optical communication system in space.
In 45 years of developments, not many European missions using optical communication technology have been launched and therefore ESA decided in 2016 to implement within its ARTES funding scheme the ScyLight strategic program line. ScyLight is a dedicated funding scheme to support and showcase Optical Communications, Photonics and Quantum technologies. The presentation will report on the ScyLight implementation and its roadmap.

About Zoran Sodnik
Dr. Zoran Sodnik joined the European Space Agency (ESA) in 1993 as senior optical engineer in the Optics Section of the Technical Directorate and became responsible for managing R&D activities and supporting ESA programs (ARTEMIS, DARWIN, LISA pathfinder, LISA, SMART-1, SMART-3, AIM, Lagrange 5,…). He was developing optical communications systems and technologies and he supervised the installation ESA’s optical ground station in Tenerife, Spain, for which he became the responsible station manager in 1995. In 2013 he became the head of the Optoelectronics Section, which deals with the development of optical detectors, laser systems, photonics systems, quantum technologies, LIDAR and optical communication systems. In 2020 he joined the Telecommunication Directorate managing the implementation of ARTES ScyLight activities.

He is invited speaker for the Optical Wireless Communication Conference.

About European Space Agency
The European Space Agency is an intergovernmental organization of 22 member states dedicated to the exploration of space. Established in 1975 and headquartered in Paris, ESA has a worldwide staff of about 2,200 in 2018 and an annual budget of about €6.68 billion in 2020.

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