Partnership seeks to deliver highway for space data

Astrium and the European Space Agency (ESA) have partnered together to design, deliver and operate a new space data highway.

A €275m (£238m) public–private partnership contract signed with Astrium means that ESA is moving ahead with an independent, European satellite system that will speed up the transmission of large quantities of data beginning in 2014.

According to a statement, the European Data Relay System’s (EDRS’s) two telecommunication payloads in geostationary orbit will enable real-time broadband, bi-directional data relay between Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites and an associated ground segment. This, in turn, will provide a telecommunications network that is claimed to be fast and reliable.

Currently, LEO satellites can only be reprogrammed and images can only be received when the satellites pass over a specific geographic location with a dedicated ground station.

With EDRS in place, Earth observation satellites could be re-programmed in near real-time and will be able to perform quicker data transfers and transmit for longer periods.

This will be important, for example, in the response of emergency services during a natural disaster, where satellite imagery can rapidly provide crisis mapping for better coordination on the ground.

‘EDRS is a big step forward in how low-orbit satellites and future unmanned aerial vehicles can be used, to the benefit of Europe’s citizens and economy,’ said Magali Vaissiere, ESA director of telecommunications and integrated applications.

The first EDRS payload — a laser communication terminal and a Ka-band inter-satellite link — will be launched in late 2014. It will be carried on the Eutelsat-9B satellite, built by Astrium and positioned over 9°E.

The second payload — also with a laser terminal — will be launched in 2015 on a dedicated satellite built by OHB-System, Germany, that will use the Small GEO platform.

The laser communication terminals, developed by Astrium subsidiary Tesat, can transmit up to 1.8 gigabits per second over distances in excess of 40,000 km between EDRS in the geostationary orbit and LEO satellites.

‘Along with the EU and ESA, the EDRS has the potential to be utilised by other national space agencies and states, as well as commercial users,’ said Eric Béranger, chief executive officer of Astrium Services.