Monday, February 1, 2016

The European Data Relay System: An Improved Space Based Data Superhighway?

Dubbed by the press as the “space based laser” will the European Data Relay System improve the global monitoring of the Earth’s environment and natural disasters?

By: Ringo Bones 

When the “first node” of the European Data Relay System (EDRS) space based lasers – a relay satellite that was launched on a Russian Proton rocket from the famous Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan back in January 30, 2016, many see it as a quantum leap on how it can now improve on how civilian firms acquire images taken from orbital space and its transmission to ground stations. At present, it can take hours to get pictures taken from Earth observation satellites down to ground stations due to the inherent data bandwidth limitations of microwaves currently used to transmit digital photographic data between observation satellites in Earth’s orbit to ground stations even though microwaves and the lasers used in the new EDRS network of satellites both travel at the same 186,000 miles per second / 300,000 kilometers per second velocity. 

Initial testing by the European Space Agency’s industrial partner – Airbus Defence and Space – shows it should be possible for the system to put pictures on the desks of people who need them on the ground within 20 minutes of those images being acquired which before the newfangled system used to take several hours of wait time. By way of comparison, the European Data Relay System’s space-based laser or “laser link” provides 90 to 100 times the normal internet speed currently being used in homes of major metropolitan areas around the world. For some applications – such as the monitoring of pollution incidents, illegal fishing or ocean piracy – the time saved could be critical to formulating and achieving an effective response.   

“The European Data Relay System (EDRS) could open up a new horizon to what I would call quasi real time Earth observation.” says Magali Vaissiere, the European Space Agency’s director of telecoms. “EDRS has been in development for more than 10 years. Getting satellites to talk to each other via a narrow laser beam is no easy task,” says European Space Agency project manager Michael Witting. With a successful connection, data will move at a rate of up to 1.8 Gb per second.