GSTC 2023

Astrolight tests mobile optical ground station

Image: Astrolight

Edinburgh, 10 August, 2021. – The start-up company Astrolight has performed its first long-range ground test of its mobile optical ground station for LEO satellites. The news comes after KSAT and Astelco Systems announced building an industrialized optical ground station in Greece last year.

Astrolight transmitted a modulated 1550nm optical signal to the retroreflector on Vilnius TV tower, which was then reflected back to the receiver. The company used a visible wavelength laser beacon for telescope alignment. The test showed that the system was capable of better than 10 arcsec pointing accuracy to acquire and track the signal, the company said.

Though the communication distance was far less than that of LEO satellites’, the impact of atmospheric turbulence was comparable. During the test, the company demonstrated how a ground station built from off-the-shelf components could be used for optical communications.

While the usable radio-frequency spectrum for satellites is limited, the optical-frequency spectrum offers almost unlimited bandwidth. During its first operational test, Astrolight achieved Gigabit per second data rate over a distance of ten kilometres.

Of course, optical communications have their challenges for example: clouds. Lasers are incapable of working their way through opaque materials. Astrolight’s solution is to establish a global network of ground stations in regions where there are hardly any clouds. The aim is to develop scalable and cost-effective ground stations for free-space optical communication, said Astrolight.

The company is planning to start satellite testing at the end of this year.

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