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Thales & Goonhilly Earth Station Collaborate On Research Into Laser Beams As Data Pipes


Thales Australia has signed a major research extension with the SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for the development of Advanced Optical Communications technologies for transmission through Earth’s Turbulent Atmosphere.

The research extension builds upon initial feasibility work conducted over the past 12 months, and provides a three-year commitment from SmartSat to fund the next phase of this new communications technology that uses laser beams to carry high data rate communications through space.

The project will develop an advanced optical communications system that has been shown to support optical fibre-like data transfer rates over atmospheric free-space communication links, using active optics technology and a free-space coherent phase-stabilisation system. The project will focus on deploying this technology to demonstrate feasibility over vertical free-space communications links through Earth’s turbulent atmosphere, starting with low-altitude targets, progressing to light aircraft and stratospheric vehicles. Preliminary work has already demonstrated successful communication over 2.4 km and 10 km horizontal free-space links.

Led by Dr. Sascha Schediwy from the University of Western Australia, in collaboration with Goonhilly Earth Station, the University of Western Australia (UWA), the University of South Australia (UniSA), and Defence Science & Technology (DST), the project supports the commitments made by Thales Australia’s Strategic Statement of Intent signed with the Australian Space Agency in December 2019, and is indicative of opportunities for new space projects that will flow from the SmartSat CRC initiative.

“This project is an important step towards the ultimate objective of achieving high data rate satellite to ground optical communications, and is a great example of how large organisations like Thales can work in partnership with the Australian research community to develop the next generation of space technologies, while also generating opportunities for local manufactures to feed into our global product supply chain.” Michael Clark, Director Technical Strategy, Thales Australia and New Zealand

“Goonhilly Earth Station is a world-class facility at the forefront of both satellite and deep space communications. Goonhilly’s future ground terminals in the UK and overseas will incorporate free space coherent optical communications capabilities and this aligns perfectly with the strategic objectives of Thales.” Dr Bob Gough, Head of Business Development, Australia & APAC, Goonhilly Earth Station  

“This project reflects the fertile environment provided by SmartSat to grow our sovereign space capability, combining the experience of international companies Goonhilly Earth Station and Thales Australia with local researchers at the University of Western Australia, the University of South Australia, and Defence Science & Technology. Optical communication links are poised to become the only viable solution to meet the data transfer needs of future space communication systems in the rapidly growing $400 billion global space economy.” Professor Andy Koronios, Chief Executive Officer, SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre.

“The project aims to develop and demonstrate high-speed, free-space optical communications via laser links between a ground station and airborne vehicles.” Dr Sascha Schediwy, Project Lead, University of Western Australia.


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