Georgia Tech signs $1.2M deal with Xenesis for satellite optical communications

Laser links to offer 10 Gbit/s in smaller, more secure, more efficient package.

A new collaborative research project between the Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA) and satellite communications provider Xenesis (Lisle, IL) is aimed at using laser links to open the bottleneck that now limits the flow of data from Earth-orbiting satellites to ground stations.

Miniaturizing the ISS laser link
The project will miniaturize, space qualify, and test the laser communications transceiver from the International Space Station (ISS) to greatly expand the bandwidth available for downlinking information from the growing number of satellites in low-Earth orbit. Xenesis has licensed the technology from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL; Pasadena, CA) and will work with Georgia Tech and JPL to mature it for use as a primary communication system for satellites as small as CubeSats.

“We expect to significantly add to the total bandwidth of information that we can get down from space, and the more bandwidth we have, the more information we can exchange and the more value we can get from satellite networks,” says Brian Gunter, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech's Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering, who will be leading the project.

Gunter's lab has experience with small satellites and will apply that expertise to the project with Xenesis -- which signed a $1.2 million contract on June 14, 2018 to support the work.

"With all of the satellites that are going into space, everything from CubeSats to major satellites, there is more information being generated than can ever be downloaded," says Dennis Poulos, chief technology officer at Xenesis. "Most of today’s systems depend on radio-frequency downlinks, and there is just a limited amount of bandwidth available for use." Xenesis is essentially setting itself up to be the first in the industry to offer a real-time solution to this archaic problem.

Laser-based systems can greatly expand that bandwidth to beyond 10 Gbit/s, Poulos says. In addition to boosting bandwidth, optical systems can use smaller antennas, use power more efficiently, and provide better data security.

"Xenesis recognizes the need for a global communications revolution, and we plan to empower space with an optical product called XenHub,” says Mark LaPenna, CEO of Xenesis.

The initial focus will be space-to-ground communication, though the system could also be used for crosslinking communication between satellites. "Once we can show that this works from space to ground, that will demonstrate that the technology can survive the harsh environment of space, and allow us continue the development of the transceiver for commercial use," Gunter adds. "This has the potential to open up a range of new capabilities, including the ability to provide high-volume data services to anywhere in the world."

Georgei Tech's contribution
In Georgia Tech's School of Aerospace Engineering, the contract will support graduate students, a postdoctoral researcher, and a group of undergraduate students, Gunter says. "This will be a major satellite project for our lab, and we look forward to advancing the technology with our collaborators."

Source: Xenesis

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