‘EDRS’ Set To Revolutionise Satellite Communications

European Data Relay System (Credit: ESA)

According to the latest UCS database (1/31/15), there are currently 1265 operational satellites orbiting Earth. These are responsible for delivering a diverse array of services, from planetary observation/space science, through to technology development and communications—this is a lot of data to shift, which is only set to increase as more advanced technologies/services come online. Recent trends in Earth-observation missions indicate that the data volume will grow by at least a factor of 10 every decade”, says Harald Hauschildt (ESA’s ESTEC centre).

To overcome this inevitable problem, ESA outline their future laser based ‘EDRS network’ (European Data Relay System):

Currently, low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites pass data using direct radio links to strategically placed ground stations. This poses a problem for both access times (available uploading/downloading times ≈ 10-15 minutes per 90 minute orbit) and security.

To improve on this situation, EDRS works by linking multiple Earth-observation satellites with two geostationary satellites—or ‘space nodes’, named EDRS-A and EDRS-C—via specially integrated laser communication terminals (LCTs). The two space nodes, permanently positioned over Europe, will then be responsible for relaying, through traditional radio methods, any received information to the Earth’s surface. ESA specify that contact time will increase four times to approximately 40 minutes per orbital period, which should allow larger amounts of more sophisticated real-time data to be transferred. Data rates are also predicted to increase to 1.8 Gbps, with a future upgrade capability of 7.2 Gbps.

Laser Communication Terminal (LCT) that will be fitted to every satellite in the EDRS network (Credit: ESA)

Laser Communication Terminal (LCT). LCTs will be fitted to every satellite in the EDRS network (Credit: ESA)

First to use the new system will be ESA’s Copernicus programme (scheduled late 2015) followed by the International Space Station (2018). A further 20% of LEO satellites over the next fifteen years will also be fitted with LCTs, ready for network integration; as Hauschildt highlights: “Once Copernicus is fully launched, its fleet of Earth observers will need to send down an estimated 6TB of data every day.” EDRS should ensure this data rate is achieved, and with a geostationary links permanently positioned over Europe increased data security should also be realised.

A third EDRS space node is also planned for launch in 2020. Named ‘GlobeNet’, the network upgrade will provide increased global coverage and even more enhanced security features for future ESA missions.

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Paul Hattle

As a strong advocate for science and learning, I am a passionate supporter of the 'Campaign for Science and Engineering' (CaSE) Fellow of the 'Royal Astronomical Society' (RAS) Associate Member of the 'Institute of Physics' (IOP) & 'The Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators' (ISTC)

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