Sunday, January 29, 2017

Canada's Contribution to the European SpaceDataHighway

          By Chuck Black

It's not often noted, but there are substantial Canadian connections to the European Space Agency (ESA) SpaceDataHighway, also known as the European Data Relay System (EDRS).

A video overview of the SpaceDataHighway, which is able to transfer high bandwidth/ low latency data using relay satellites equipped with laser communication terminals (LCT), between dedicated Earth observation satellites, other orbital platforms (including the International Space Station), aircraft and ground based facilities in near real time. As outlined in the November 23rd, 2016 Parabolic Arc post, "ESA Inaugurates Space Data Highway With Laser Communications," the system became operational in November 2016 using two geostationary satellites and two more are planned. The constellation currently supports the ESA's Copernicus Earth observation program. To see the complete video, simply click on the graphic above. Screenshot c/o Airbus Defence and Space.

"The SpaceDataHighway is the most advanced communication system bringing data from space back to Earth in operation today," said Hughes Boulnois, the director and head of EDRS business at Airbus Defence and Space, during a recent interview with the Commercial Space blog. "It's only natural that the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), as an ESA associate member, would take an interest in the program."

But Canada has done more than simply provide its tacit approval as the ESA moves forward. According to Boulnois, its also the biggest subscriber to the EDRS-D component of the program.

Hughes Boulnois. Photo c/o Linked-In.
Canada has contributed €4Mln Euros ($5.63Mln CDN), or 58% of the total current contribution towards funding the upcoming EDRS-D satellite, the third satellite in the program, up to phase B2 (part of the preliminary definition phase).

The CSA is also expected to contribute more funds in 2017 to move satellite construction forward.

In parallel, Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) will act as the prime contractor for the upcoming Columbus Ka-band (COLKa) terminal, which will be used on the ESA Columbus module of the International Space Station (ISS).

But while MDA will act is the prime contractor for COLKa, the terminal will be developed and manufactured in co-operation with Antwerpen, Belgium based Antwerp Space, a subsidiary of Bremen, Germany based multinational technology corporation OHB SE.

As outlined on the undated OHB SE press release, "AntwerpSpace develops new satellite modem for MDA," the equipment developed by Antwerp Space "consists of an advanced modem that uses a high-performing encoding technology for the very first time in Europe. This modem will enable faster communication from the ISS to the Earth via the new European Data Relay Satellite System (EDRS)."

Ka band capabilities, a part of the SpaceDataHighway, also allows satellites to be re-tasked in near real time to improve the satellite productivity and avoid heavy cloud cover. when optical laser data transmission becomes more difficult.

A presentation on the SpaceDataHighway, also known as EDRS, from the June 14th, 2016 "Industry Day for EDRS-D / GlobeNet." As outlined in the presentation, EDRS "is a public private partnership between ESA and Airbus Defence and Space" build upon "already proven technology and space heritage," with the intention to "develop a commercially sustainable data relay service."  To view the complete presentation, simply click on the graphic above. Graphic c/o ESA & Airbus Defence and Space.

According to Boulnois, "we expect to have four satellites (under the the Copernicus Sentinel program) in full operation as part of the SpaceDataHighway by the end of the year. Two more are planned in the future." The satellites are expected to provide great benefits to applications related to emergency rescue in remote locations and military applications to complement and support existing ground station networks using its full end-to-end 1.8 Gbitps data transfer bandwidth.

The laser based communication signal is also resilient, hard to intercept and detect, plus its very difficult to jam or weaken, which makes the technology not only useful for Earth observation satellites, but also useful for aerial communications on military platforms. Airbus Defence and Space, the private component of the public private partnership driving the SpaceDataHighway, is currently testing the technology on an Airbus A310 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT).

Airbus has also moved forward with a competition "to foster further innovation and enlarge the application portfolio," of uses for the SpaceDataHighway.

SpaceDataHighWay contest overview. Graphic c/o Airbus.
As outlined in the January 12th, 2017 Airbus press release, "Airbus Launches “Enter the SpaceDataHighway” Challenge,"  Airbus has issued a call for "SMEs, start-ups, entrepreneurs and students who would like to embark on this adventure with their business ideas for the utilization of the “SpaceDataHighway”."

The winning project will receive a €75K Euro ($106K CDN) investment prize, plus access to "the expertise and support of Airbus Bizlab, the Group’s innovation powerhouse" during a six month program.

The Airbus Bizlab is a global aerospace business accelerator, funded by Airbus. where startups and intrapreneurs speed up the transformation of innovative ideas into valuable commercial products.

The second place project will receive a €25K Euro ($35K CDN) prize to launch a crowdfunding campaign on the SpaceStarters crowdfunding platform, which enables space related businesses and start-ups to raise money and turn their space focused ideas into commercial projects.

According to Boulnois “space communications are the only way to establish broadband communications between humans and machines, whether they are in urban or remote areas, at sea, in the air or even in space. The SpaceDataHighway is like the first optical fiber in space, but with the added advantage of mobility. Therefore, the scope of possible applications is vast.

Here's hoping that Canada's contribution to the SpaceDataHighway will continue to grow.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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