December 18, 2015

CNES and NICT announce new satellite-to-ground optical links

Over the last six months, CNES and Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) have successfully established optical links between a SOTA terminal on a low-Earth-orbit satellite and an experimental ground station at the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur (OCA) in Caussols, southern France. This success has been hailed by four international publications.

During the night of 22-23 June, CNES and NICT succeeded in establishing a transmission using an optical link between a NICT SOTA terminal (Small Optical TerminAl) flying on a Japanese low-Earth-orbit satellite and the experimental optical ground station* (OGS) at the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur (OCA) in Caussols, southern France. Since this first successful trial, other links have been established in July and October with different instrument configurations.

The purpose of this experiment is to collect data in order to study laser beam propagation through the atmosphere. Compared to radio-frequency links, optical links offer much more bandwidth and faster data rates, but atmospheric constraints are a lot greater. Such satellite-to-ground optical links could potentially be used in future to transmit data acquired by Earth-observation satellites and for satellite telecommunications.

This experiment is part of the framework cooperation agreement signed between NICT and CNES on information and communication technology and in connection with space technologies and applications. NICT has also established similar links between a SOTA terminal and a NICT OGS located in Japan. The joint NICT-CNES experiment will continue in the months ahead to test different link parameters and exchange data received from CNES and NICT’s ground stations to compare results. The results obtained were recently hailed in papers at international forums and conferences.

* Note: The experiment was performed with the French OGS and called on the accumulated expertise and investments of OCA and the French scientific research centre CNRS in the related field of ground-to-space laser range-finding. OGS studies, development and the measurement campaign were conducted for CNES by the OCA team with support from the French defence research agency ONERA, Airbus Defence & Space and Thales Alenia Space.

Pascale Bresson    Tel. +33 (0)1 44 76 75 39
Alain Delrieu    Tel. +33 (0)1 44 76 74 04
Julien Watelet    Tel. +33 (0)1 44 76 78 37