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CAD concept of SmallCAT laser transmitterCAD concept of SmallCAT laser transmitter©️ G&H

G&H as pivotal enabler of trailblazing laser communication cubesat system in Europe


Torquay, United Kingdom – January 2024

G&H, a world leader in precision optics and photonics solutions, has received confirmation about the success of its laser transmitter placed within the larger satellite laser communication system of the TNO consortium. The Dutch applied scientific research powerhouse has recently validated the breakthrough of its laser communication technology by establishing a secure and stable connection between a Norwegian Space Agency launched satellite and a ground station on Earth. This marks a unique achievement within the Dutch, and implicitly, the European space photonic ecosystem, overcoming important laser communication challenges.

The SmallCAT (Small Communication Active Terminal) is a laser communication system set onboard the Norwegian NORSAT-TD since April 2023. As part of an ongoing experiment in space-based laser communication, the purpose of this application is to miniaturise laser communications and hence improve the data transmission capabilities of small satellites via an earth-enabled laser communication approach. Through invisible light signals, data can be sent across transmission points faster and in a more secure manner.

Immense distances are involved in such a complex process. For example, the tested Norwegian satellite flies at an altitude of 500 kilometers at a speed of 28,000 kilometers per hour. When creating an optical link between satellites and Earth, although laser light propagates in a tight beam, very few photons launched from the satellite actually reach the terrestrial optical ground station. This represents one of the greatest challenges for a streamlined photon-enabled satellite communication process.

SmallCAT flight moduleSmallCAT flight module©️ G&H

A critical component that mitigates this issue, which also forms the heart of the SmallCAT, is the amplified laser transmitter, a G&H custom-manufactured solution. This transmitter performs two primary functions. First, it converts electrical 1s and 0s into optical 1s and 0s. It then amplifies this light with the purpose of counteracting transmission losses, another challenge in laser communication. The conversion of electrical 1s and 0s into optical 1s and 0s is realized through G&H’s high-bandwidth hermetic DFB. The subsequent amplification utilizes a host of space-grade G&H fiber optics, including custom-built components that enable the required small form factor design, all held together through vetted G&H optical amplifier knowhow. The laser transmitter is a compact and power efficient contributing to a 10x mass reduction compared to first generation terminals in operation.

“I am proud that we could contribute with such a critical part to this world-leading project” comments Matt Welch, Chief Engineer Fiber Optic Systems at G&H. “Following an initial demonstration in an ESA technology project, a modified design for a flight model was created, manufactured, and tested in less than 6 months. The team at Gooch & Housego were able to achieve this feat because of the deep heritage know-how and existing capabilities for space-ready manufactured optical systems. A breadth of G&H components was utilized within the design, leveraging the company’s vertical integration and our portfolio of space-capable components. The design we released was custom, and unusually shaped to fit into the utilized space within SmallCAT – which enabled SmallCAT’s impressively small size. We worked closely with TNO to the point that our amplifier laser transmitter became part of the external wall of SmallCAT. I am immensely proud of everyone in our team, who has shown that G&H is the partner of choice for OEM optical space systems, ready to deliver.”

Eye diagram of the output signal of the SmallCAT laser transmitterEye diagram of the output signal of the SmallCAT laser transmitter©️ G&H

Kees Buijsrogge, Director of TNO Space, remarked that: “This pivotal milestone marks a significant achievement in advancing technological sovereignty for both the Netherlands and Europe in a strong NATO, as it will enable faster and more secure broadband connectivity. It’s a provisional outcome of collaborative endeavors within a nascent Dutch industry specializing in optical satellite communication.”

G&H would like to thank the entire TNO consortium for the trust placed in the know-how and operability of the team. We also acknowledge ESA and UK Space support through ESA contract No. 4000123704/18/NL/NR.

Laser communication has been called “the future of New Space”. High-precision photonic advancements represent a critical upgrade for future space satcom applications. State-of-the-art components and systems such as the G&H custom-built laser transmitter will revolutionize how humankind communicates to and from space.

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