What’s Next: The Future of NASA’s Laser Communications

Illustration of ILLUMA-T communicating science and exploration data from the International Space Station to LCRD. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Dave Ryan)

By Kendall Murphy
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — NASA uses lasers to send information to and from Earth, employing invisible beams to traverse the skies, sending terabytes of data – pictures and videos – to increase our knowledge of the universe. This capability is known as laser, or optical, communications, even though these eye-safe, infrared beams can’t be seen by human eyes.

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DARPA Kicks Off Program to Develop Low-Earth Orbit Satellite ‘Translator’

ARLINGTON, Va. (DARPA PR) — DARPA has selected 11 teams for Phase 1 of the Space-Based Adaptive Communications Node program, known as Space-BACN. Space-BACN aims to create a low-cost, reconfigurable optical communications terminal that adapts to most optical intersatellite link standards, translating between diverse satellite constellations. Space-BACN would create an “internet” of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, enabling seamless communication between military/government and commercial/civil satellite constellations that currently are unable to talk with each other.

The agency selected teams from academia and large and small commercial companies, including multiple performers awarded first-time contracts with the Department of Defense.

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Mynaric Selected for Next Phase of DARPA Program

Phase 1 Goal to Develop Benchtop Model of Next-Generation Optical Communications Terminal for Proliferated Space Domain 

LOS ANGELES, August 10, 2022 (Mynaric PR) –  Mynaric has been selected as a key development partner to create a benchtop model of a next-generation optical communications terminal as part of Phase 1 of the Space-based adaptive communications node (Space-BACN) program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA’s Space-BACN program envisions a low-cost, scalable optical communications terminal that could be reconfigured to work with various optical intersatellite link standards allowing seamless communication among government and private-sector proprietary satellites. The announcement follows the selection of Mynaric to participate in the Space-BACN program’s Phase 0 at the end of last year and represents Mynaric’s continued success with U.S. government customers that are a driving force for the deployment of space-based, optical communication capabilities.

“Our long-standing goal to develop and manufacture scalable, cost-effective and industrialized optical communications terminals is well aligned with the objectives of DARPA’s Space-BACN program,” said Joachim Horwath, CTO of Mynaric. “Providing an adaptable solution that can operate with any other terminal irrespective of an implemented laser communications standard and without compromising on performance and affordability is an important technical challenge. It’s a task we are more than happy to tackle for DARPA and that we consider as crucial for the development of future products.”

The 14-month Phase 1 of the Space-BACN program follows the 15-week Phase 0, which was focused on developing the architectural design of the terminal. Additionally, it precedes the 20-month Phase 2 which aims to build a prototype version of the future product.

“Laser communications is widely considered as the emerging backbone and the optical fiber equivalent for space-based communication networks,” said Tina Ghataore, CCO of Mynaric. “Unleashing the full utility of these networks will require seamless integration and interoperability between optical communication architectures of governmental and commercial customers. We are honored to be able to continue to contribute to these efforts for DARPA.”

Mynaric is pushing the industry with an aggressive product development and engineering roadmap with industrialized products that reduce size, weight, power and cost without compromising performance. The CONDOR Mk3 optical communications terminal already offers configurable data rate speeds between 100 Mbps and 100 Gbps delivering higher speeds based on the mission and ensuring compatibility with the Space Development Agency’s interoperability standard among others.

About Mynaric  

Mynaric (Nasdaq: MYNA; Frankfurt Stock Exchange: M0Y) is leading the industrial revolution of laser communications by producing optical communications terminals for air, space and mobile applications. Laser communication networks provide connectivity from the sky, allowing for ultra-high data rates and secure, long-distance data transmission between moving objects for wireless terrestrial, mobility, airborne- and space-based applications. The company is headquartered in Munich, Germany, with additional locations in Los Angeles, California, and Washington, D.C. 

For more information, visit mynaric.com.   

Capella Space Unveils Next Generation Satellite with Enhanced Imagery Capabilities and Communication Features

Artist rendering of the Capella Space third generation satellite, Acadia. (Credit: Capella Space)

Capellas third-generation synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites offer highest quality imagery, best resolution, and fastest order-to-delivery speeds

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 10, 2022 (Capella Space PR) –– Capella Space, a leading Earth observation company, today unveiled several new capabilities planned for its next generation satellites, further expanding the company’s cutting-edge, premium data offerings. This new generation of Capella satellites, referred to as “Acadia” technology, will expand the existing Capella constellation to provide highest quality imagery, best ground-range resolution, and the fastest order-to-delivery speeds available from any commercial SAR provider.

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Safran, Airbus and CNES at Forefront of Earth-Space Optical Communications

PARIS (CNES PR) — In partnership with CNES and Airbus Defense & Space and as part of the TELEO project, Safran Data Systems has successfully delivered the first in a series of digital modems dedicated to Earth-Space optical communications: the Cortex Lasercom.

Laser optical communications will make it possible to achieve speeds 10 to 100 times higher than the radio frequency communications currently used. Heir to the Cortex HDR, the world reference satellite imagery reception modem, Safran Data Systems has developed the Cortex Lasercom modem equipped with processing and decoding capabilities allowing to reach a record speed of 10 Gigabits per second of bit rate for Earth-Space optical communications, a level unequaled in the world.

The Cortex Lasercom will be used in several cooperation projects between Safran, Airbus and CNES, and will equip future optical ground stations (OGS) (Optical Ground Stations) marketed by Safran. These OGS will allow the link with all future satellites that will carry laser communication capabilities with the Earth. Two demonstrations on Airbus and CNES programs will take place in 2023, a world first: LASIN on the constellation of CO3D imaging satellites, and TELEO on the future BADR-8 telecommunications satellite. On this occasion, the Cortex Lasercom will be equipped with error-correcting codes developed by Airbus Defense & Space, which make it possible to deliver useful and error-free information to the user.

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Terran Orbital Successfully Completes Next Step In Demonstrating Space-To-Ground Optical Link On NASA’s Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator 3 Satellite

PTD-3’s TeraByte InfraRed Delivery (TBIRD) payload will demonstrate optical communications downlink at a groundbreaking 200 gigabits per second (Image Credit: Terran Orbital Corporation)

BOCA RATON, Fla. (Terran Orbital PR) — Terran Orbital Corporation (NYSE: LLAP), a global leader in satellite solutions, primarily serving the United States and Allied aerospace and defense industries, today announced the first signal acquisition of the Terabyte Infrared Delivery (TBIRD) Lasercom Optical Link on NASA’s Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator 3 (PTD-3) satellite. Acquisition of the Lasercom Optical Link means that the spacecraft and the optical ground terminal have successfully exchanged laser communication signals — bringing PTD-3 one step closer to full payload commissioning.

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NASA-Supported Advanced Laser Communications CubeSat Readies for Launch

Jackson Barcheck, lead technician with Blue Canyon Technologies (far left), and Jake Cornish, senior mission manager at Nanoracks (middle left), insert the 3U CLICK A CubeSat into its dispenser in April 2022. Nanoracks engineers, Aniello Zabatta (middle right) and Adriana Aiello (far right), observe at the Nanoracks facility in Houston. (Credits: NASA / Robert Markowitz)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — A small CubeSat carrying laser communications technology is readying for launch. Engineers are preparing the NASA-supported CLICK A CubeSat for launch no earlier than July 14, 2022, aboard SpaceX’s 25th Commercial Resupply Service (CRS-25) mission to the International Space Station as part of the next ELaNa (Educational Launch of Nanosatellites) mission.

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Mynaric Signs L3Harris as Strategic Investor and Intensifies Collaboration

MUNICH, GERMANY and MELBOURNE, Fla., July 5, 2022 (Mynaric/L3Harris PR) — Mynaric (NASDAQ:MYNA)(FRA:M0Y) and L3Harris (LHX) today signed agreements related to an investment in Mynaric by L3Harris and to future collaboration. With the strategic investment, the companies seek to build on their existing collaboration in the airborne domain and widen the scope to cover all domains including space, air, maritime and ground. Pursuant to the agreements, L3Harris will invest approximately EUR 11.2 million by means of a capital increase from authorized capital (under exclusion of subscription rights) and acquire 409,294 new bearer shares of Mynaric at a price of around EUR 27.37 per share. Following the capital increase, L3Harris will initially own 7.2% of Mynaric’s total shares.

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BlueHalo Awarded $11M Air Force Research Laboratory Contract for Optical Laser Communications Flight Terminals and Ground Station

BlueHalo Laser Communications Concept (Image Credit: BlueHalo)

ARLINGTON, Va. (BlueHalo PR) — BlueHalo has been awarded a contract to deliver a pair of optical laser communications proto-flight terminals and a ground station to demonstrate on-orbit processing of satellite positioning and timing for the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base.  Work will be performed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is expected to be completed by February 2025.  The contract will support the development and demonstration of key technologies: GEO-to-LEO Optical Uplinks and Downlinks, Space-to-Ground Links, Positioning and Timing Accuracies over Optical Communication Links, and interoperability with multiple optical communications standards.

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Northrop Grumman Announces Successful Laser Communication Demonstration for Tranche 1 Transport Layer Prototype Constellation

Northrop Grumman teamed with Mynaric and Innoflight to bring the Space Development Agency’s (SDA) vision of a secure, proliferated low-Earth orbit (LEO) mesh communication network closer to reality

Northrop Grumman personnel examine the U.S. Space Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Test Program Satellite 6 (STPSat-6) at its facility in Dulles, Virginia, prior to its shipment to Florida for final launch processing. Seen on the front of the spacecraft is NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration instrument, the first long-duration laser communications mission that will validate advanced relay operations for future missions. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. (Northrop Grumman PR) – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) today announced the successful ground demonstration of a secure networked laser communications system for proliferated-LEO constellations supporting the U.S. military.

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SEAKR Engineering Demonstrates Optical Communications on DARPA’s Mandrake 2 Satellites

Mandrake 2 satellites (Credit: DARPA)

Integrated technology allows for on-orbit networked systems

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (SEAKR Engineering PR) – SEAKR Engineering, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies, announced a successful demonstration of optical inter-satellite links between two Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Mandrake 2 satellites. During the first test, more than 280 gigabits of data were transferred at a range of 114 kilometers during a period of more than 40 minutes. 

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Canadian Space Agency Funds Novel Ideas for Potential Moon Infrastructure

Credit: Canadian Space Agency

LONGUEIUL, Que. (CSA PR) — As humanity tackles the challenges of creating a permanent human presence on the Moon, multiple Canadian companies will undertake seven concept studies. These reports will help develop capabilities and define potential Canadian infrastructure contributions on the Moon’s surface.

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CubeSat Set to Demonstrate NASA’s Fastest Laser Link from Space

The completed TeraByte InfraRed Delivery (TBIRD) payload at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory. (Credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory)

By Kendall Murphy
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — NASA’s Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator 3 (PTD-3) mission, carrying the TeraByte InfraRed Delivery (TBIRD) system, will debut on May 25 as part of SpaceX’s Transporter-5 rideshare launch. TBIRD will showcase the high-data-rate capabilities of laser communications from a CubeSat in low-Earth orbit. At 200 gigabits per second (Gbps), TBIRD will downlink data at the highest optical rate ever achieved by NASA.

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New Company Established: Sony Space Communications Corporation

Will conduct space optical communications business

Graphic representation of the difference in data rates between radio and laser communications. (Credits: NASA)

NEW YORK (Sony PR) — Sony Group Corporation (“Sony Group”) announced that its wholly owned subsidiary, Sony Corporation of America (“SCA”), has formed a new company, Sony Space Communications Corporation (“SSC”), to conduct space optical communications.

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Mynaric and Airbus U.S. Space & Defense, Inc. Sign Contract for Laser Communication Demonstration on ISS Bartolomeo Platform

Bartolomeo platform on the International Space Station. (Credit: Mynaric)

Airbus’s payload hosting platform to demonstrate Mynaric’s laser communication product on the International Space Station 

HOUSTON, May 12, 2022 – Mynaric (NASDAQ: MYNA)(FRA: M0Y) and Airbus U.S. Space & Defense, Inc. have signed a contract to host Mynaric’s CONDOR Mk2 terminal for space-based laser communication on the International Space Station’s (ISS) functional testbed, Bartolomeo. Mynaric plans to operate its industrialized optical communications terminal on the ISS, with the goal of demonstrating the product’s capabilities in low Earth orbit and providing its customers with an extended range of experimental mission scenarios.  

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