DARPA seeks a solution for laser communication in space

WASHINGTON – The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency [DARPA] is asking for ideas on how to create laser inter-satellite communications links that could connect government and commercial space communications systems in low Earth orbit. This was reported on September 14 by the SpaceNews portal, learned BulgarianMilitary.com.

DARPA has announced that it will develop this technology through a new program called Space-BACN.

Space-BACN chief executive Greg Cooperman said the goal of the program is “seamless communication between the various satellite constellations that are currently unable to talk to each other.”

One of the main concerns, Cooperman said, is that optical links are currently designed to only connect satellites within the same constellation. Currently, existing transmitters cannot dynamically adapt the waveforms to communicate with satellites in other constellations.

According to a DARPA representative, the desired optical terminals must support a data transfer rate of 100 gigabits per second, consume no more than 100 watts of power and cost no more than $ 100 thousand per unit.

Recall, SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell, speaking at the panel session of the 36th Space Symposium, said that all Starlink satellites that will be launched as part of the second phase of the deployment of the global satellite constellation will be equipped with laser communication devices. The first batch of 51 satellites, which were launched into polar orbits on September 14, is already equipped with a laser communication system.

New standard for wireless transmission

Back in 2018 Northrop Grumman Corporation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency [DARPA] have set a new standard for wireless transmission by operating a data link at 100 Gbps over a distance of 20 km.

The successful data link is based on the integration of several crucial technologies. The link operates at millimeter wave frequencies [71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz] with 5 GHz of bandwidth, or data carrying capacity, and it uses a bandwidth efficient signal modulation technique for transmitting 25 Gbps data streams on each 5 GHz channel.

For doubling the rate within the fixed bandwidth, the data link transmits dual orthogonally polarized signals from each antenna. In addition, the link transmits from two antennas simultaneously [spatial multiplexing] and uses MIMO [multiple-input-multiple-output] signal processing techniques for separating the signals at two receiving antennas, thus again doubling the data rate within the fixed bandwidth.

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