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Artemis II laser communication platform prepares for lunar voyage

21 Jun 2023

Mission will test systems and optical comms links alongside manned Orion launch.

The laser communications platform destined for NASA's Artemis II mission has arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, ready for a launch currently scheduled to take place in November 2024.

The flight will be the second in the Artemis program of lunar exploration missions, but the first trip for the Orion spacecraft, a crewed capsule due to perform a lunar flyby and return to Earth as a step towards NASA's return to manned lunar exploration.

Artemis II will also test new and enhanced technologies for future vehicles, including laser comms capabilities. It will carry a laser communications terminal called O2O, or the Orion Artemis II Optical Communications System.

O2O, in development since 2018, is intended to enable live ultra-high-definition video from the Moon, as well as enhanced transmission of other flight communications. The result should be videos and images significantly more vivid and detailed than those possible during Apollo-era manned missions.

Components on board O2O include an optical module based around a 4-inch telescope and two gimbals that point the telescope toward ground terminals on Earth; a modem converting mission data and commands to and from laser beams for communication via the optical module; and controller electronics interfacing with the Orion flight avionics, plus custom interfacing electronics for control and the pointing of the optical module's telescope.

"At 260 megabits per second, O2O is capable of sending down 4K high-definition video from the Moon," said Steve Horowitz, O2O project manager. "In addition to video and pictures, O2O will transmit and receive procedures, pictures, flight plans, and be a link between Orion and mission control on Earth."

Space industry moves towards optical links

In other space-based laser comms developments, Spire Global announced successful contact with two satellites on the SpaceX Transporter-8 mission, carrying optical inter-satellite link (OISL) payloads intended to improve data latency and strengthen security of communication.

According to Spire data, the six-unit "6U" cubesat satellites are equipped with optical communications terminals (OCT) designed to send information between them securely and almost instantaneously, helping to reduce the latency of data acquired by Spire's nanosatellites by more than an order of magnitude.

Spire's OCT allows for the creation of optical links between satellites while up to 5,000 kilometers apart, said the company.

"We are celebrating the culmination of more than three years of work in creating one of the most complex systems from both the hardware and mission perspectives," noted Spire's Jeroen Cappaert.

"This technology is our part in a growing trend, as the space industry is moving to optical links as the backbone for sending data."

 And in Tokyo, Mitsubishi Electric announced that it had successfully demonstrated laser optical frequency control using a new light source module, a key component of an envisioned high-capacity laser optical communication network to be deployed in outer space.

The light source module, producing a 1.5-micron wavelength signal, was installed in the OPTIMAL-11 nanosatellite released from the International Space Station in January, according to the company. It is the first receiver to integrate spatial laser acquisition in the photodetector itself, allowing the direction of the received beams to be determined without the need for a dedicated sensor.

In 2022 Mitsubushi described this architecture as intended to enable data links even with weaker laser beams compared to the conventional method of detecting intensity changes, allowing communication over longer distances using the same laser beam intensity. The latest trial was a successful demonstration of the principle, said the company.

TRIOPTICS GmbHLaCroix Precision OpticsCeNing Optics Co LtdCHROMA TECHNOLOGY CORP.Mad City Labs, Inc.Berkeley Nucleonics CorporationSPECTROGON AB
© 2024 SPIE Europe
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