from the space-lasers dept.
SpaceX's laser system for Starlink is delivering over 42 petabytes of data for customers per day, an engineer revealed today. That translates into 42 million gigabytes.
"We're passing over terabits per second [of data] every day across 9,000 lasers," SpaceX engineer Travis Brashears said today at SPIE Photonics West, an event in San Francisco focused on the latest advancements in optics and light.
[...] Although Starlink uses radio waves to beam high-speed internet to customers, SpaceX has also been outfitting the company's satellites with a "laser link" system to help drive down latency and improve the system's global coverage.
[...] Brashears also said Starlink's laser system was able to connect two satellites over 5,400 kilometers (3,355 miles) apart. The link was so long "it cut down through the atmosphere, all the way down to 30 kilometers above the surface of the Earth," he said, before the connection broke.
"Another really fun fact is that we held a link all the way down to 122 kilometers while we were de-orbiting a satellite," he said. "And we were able to downstream the video."
[...] For the future, SpaceX plans on expanding its laser system so that it can be ported and installed on third-party satellites. The company has also explored beaming the satellite lasers directly to terminals on the Earth's surface to deliver data. But Brashears said a "deeper study" is necessary to enable the technology.
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[...] "We're flying a number of laser terminals right now in space," Shotwell said, adding that SpaceX is now working to integrate lasers into all of its Starlink satellites.
"That's why we have been struggling for six or eight weeks — we wanted the next set to have laser terminals on them," Shotwell said.
[...] With this technology, SpaceX hopes that ground stations on Earth won't be necessary with every batch of satellites as part of the constellation. Making this change could allow satellite internet coverage to reach areas where ground stations cannot be built, Shotwell explained.
The recent launch lull won't last much longer
Arthur T Knackerbracket has processed the following story:
Our televisions and computer screens display news, movies, and shows in high-definition, allowing viewers a clear and vibrant experience. Fiber optic connections send laser light densely packed with data through cables to bring these experiences to users.
NASA and commercial aerospace companies are applying similar technologies to space communications, bringing optical speeds to the final frontier. Free-space optical communications leverages recent advancements in telecommunications to allow spacecraft to send high-resolution images and videos over laser links.
"Free-space" refers to the absence of the insulated, fiber optic cables that enable the terrestrial internet. Free-space laser communications flow freely through the vacuum of space, however atmosphere poses unique challenges to communications engineers.
NASA's Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) will send data to and from ground stations and, eventually, in-space user missions over laser links.
The Space Development Agency [SDA] awarded BridgeComm and Space Micro a $1.7 million contract to demonstrate point-to-multipoint communications
Each of the satellites in the Pentagon’s planned mesh network of communications satellites could have as many as many as four laser links so they can talk to other satellites, airplanes, ships and ground stations.
Optical inter-satellite links are critical to the success of the Space Development Agency’s low Earth orbit constellation — known as Transport Layer — that will be used to route data traffic. Lasers provide much higher transmission data rates than traditional radio-frequency communications but are also far more expensive.
SDA recently awarded nearly $1.8 billion in contracts for 126 satellites for the Transport Layer. By some estimates, about $500 million of that total would be for optical terminals, said Michael Abad-Santos, senior vice president of business development and strategy at BridgeComm, a Denver-based optical communications startup.
The company developed a so-called “one-to-many” optical communications technology for point-to-multipoint transmissions. This technology could help reduce the cost of building constellations by requiring fewer terminals, Abad-Santos said.
NASA's Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator 3 (PTD-3) mission, carrying the TeraByte InfraRed Delivery (TBIRD) system, will debut on May 25 [for a 6-month experiment] as part of SpaceX's Transporter-5 rideshare launch. TBIRD will showcase the high-data-rate capabilities of laser communications from a CubeSat in low-Earth orbit. At 200 gigabits per second (Gbps), TBIRD will downlink data at the highest optical rate ever achieved by NASA.
NASA primarily uses radio frequency to communicate with spacecraft, but with sights set on human exploration of the Moon and Mars and the development of enhanced scientific instruments, NASA needs more efficient communications systems to transmit significant amounts of data. With more data, researchers can make profound discoveries. Laser communications substantially increases data transport capabilities, offering higher data rates and more information packed into a single transmission.
"Sony on Thursday said it formed a new company that will build and supply devices that allow small satellites in orbit to communicate with one another via laser beams, dipping into the fast-growing space sector."
Sony Space Communications Corp, registered on Wednesday, is meant to take advantage of laser technology to avoid a bottleneck of radio frequencies. The devices will work between satellites in space and satellites communicating with ground stations.
The company did not say when it expects to have its first commercial device operating in space, whether it has existing customers lined up or how much money it has invested into the technology to date.
There are roughly 12,000 satellites in orbit, a number that is projected to increase rapidly in the coming years as rocket companies slash the cost of launching things to space, [...]