Application of Space Photonics

Space photonics is a technology that has significantly transformed how space exploration happens. From telecommunications to navigation plus remote sensing, a lot of missions have been made possible thanks to this technology.

This technology has many advantages like:

  • power efficiency
  • Reduced mass and bandwidth requirements.
  • Shielding against electromagnetic interference
  • Better beam size.

These advantages have made this technology a vital component of satellite systems, particularly navigation systems. Other applications are as described below.

Communication Terminals

Data preparation and the construction of communication links in space occurs with the use of lacer communication terminals (LCTs). It performs the layer-1 and 2 functions in accordance with the original OSI reference model. The terminal model uses fiber optic transmitters, a central processor, a receiver subsystem, plus a free space assembly to perform acquisition and tracking.

Photonic components that are vital to building the right fiber optic transmitter and receiver subsystems which include amplifiers, lasers, generational photodetectors, and electro-optic modulators. The components are used for light reception, coding, and amplification. Though the photonic systems used in space exploration still need performance evaluations, they still score highly when subject to worst-case degradation factors.

Photonics in Space-grade Fibre Optics

One of the essential components in satellite laser communications and other intra-satellite links in payloads for telecom satellites are opto-electronic components. The semiconductor lasers work to generate light in the right wavelengths to enable transmission. The lasers work together with the optical pump light needed in glasses or doped fibers to create and amplify signals.

When it comes to the building design, these lasers need to remain hermetical and sealed. They also need to be resistant against mechanical, thermal, and radiation effects for them to survive launches and other operations. Their material needs to be fully traceable plus have a tightly controlled and well-defined manufacturing process. This is per regulations of product assurance by the mission-department.

Building Space Qualified Systems

Combining lasers and fiber optics in subsystems is validated as a result of the successful passing of space-level unit tests in line with NASA and ESA standards, including the ECSS-E-10-03. This standard is mandatory to check environmental and performance stipulations for any space vessel and its constituents.

Together with these tests, a vessel has to pass the thermal and mechanical checks, including vibration, shock, and thermal cycling done in a vacuum. The tests are created to resemble a launch and in-orbit functioning.

Photonics have made a huge impact in the space exploration space but they are yet to be fully adopted as a must-have technology on any space ship. For photonics to be adopted in major space exploration programs they have to able to back up the transition to Space 2.0 and be cost-effective when deploying mega-constellations and inter-satellite networks.