UKSA backs Northumbria University for FSO CubeSats

UKSA backs Northumbria University for FSO CubeSats

Their CubeSats use lasers, instead of radio frequency, for data transmissions with more capacity and security. And the aim is to develop an “off the shelf” product for telecoms providers, which could deliver IoT services, as well as remote sensing for environmental monitoring and disaster prevention.

The small satellites will operate in pairs in a low Earth orbit (LEO) and be capable of transmitting data at a rate of one gigabit per second (1 gbps) using free-space optical communication technology (FSO).

The Newcastle-based university research team plans to build and test their laser system over the next 12 months.

“We are absolutely delighted to have secured this funding to further our research. This award will enable us to move to the next phase of our plans, where we can put our ideas into practice to build and test our designs,” said Dr Eamon Scullion, a solar physicist in Northumbria’s Solar-Terrestrial Science research group, who is leading the project (pictured).

“This is no mean feat. We need to carefully design, test and miniaturise electronic boards, optical lasers, receivers and transmitters which can fit together in the satellites and be ‘space qualified’, meaning they will be tested to ensure they continue to work at an optimal level whilst in orbit, dealing with the impact of radiation, atmospheric drag and extremely cold space temperatures.”

It was in December 2020 that the university first received £360,000 funding from the UK Space Agency, as phase 1, to develop the laser-based system. It was one of five University-led projects from across the UK to be awarded a share of over £8 million of funding through the UK Space Agency’s National Space Innovation Programme.

Northumbria University is leading the research, working in partnership with Durham University’s Centre for Advanced Instrumentation, Gateshead-based satellite communications technology company e2E Group and telecoms and electronics manufacturing company SMS Electronics, which is based in Nottingham.

“This new technology will enable communication between satellites at an unprecedented speed. The challenge, in this project, is to fit all this cutting-edge technology in only three CubeSat units, basically the size of a whisky bottle box,” said Cyril Bourgenot, technology development lead at Durham University’s Centre for Advanced Instrumentation.

Pictured above is an artists’ impression of the laser-based satellite communications system.

Northumbria University in space

Northumbria University is highlighting its multi-disciplinary research into space.

The university’s Solar-Terrestrial Science research group is involved with studies to monitor and predict space weather to reduce the risks this poses to communications systems, satellites and power grids, while the Aerospace Medicine and Rehabilitation Laboratory is leading studies into the impact of reduced gravity on astronauts’ bodies and how this can be translated into conditions faced on Earth, such as back pain.

The university also specialises in space law, “undertaking pioneering work on the governance framework for human activity in outer space”.

Images: Northumbria University

See also: JAXA progresses inter-satellite optical communication in space

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