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PARIS — A space-based laser communication system fitted onboard the European Data Relay System (EDRS)-A satellite payload is due to be launched Jan. 27, offering commercial and military operators a secure and high-capacity data transmitter, European Space Agency officials and Airbus Defence & Space executives said.

The laser technology offers “volume and velocity,” said Magali Vaissiere, an ESA director.

The laser communication terminal, built by Tesat Spacecom, an Airbus DS unit, will allow aircraft and drones to transmit pictures, video and data by laser rather than radio. A laser beam offers security and stealth from hackers, an Airbus DS spokesman said.

Airbus DS, as prime contractor in a public-private partnership with the ESA, funded a third of the EDRS program during a three- to four-year period, said Evert Dudok, head of communications, intelligence and security at the Airbus unit. The program had a total budget of almost €500 million (US $556 million), and was backed the European Commission as the anchor client, with Germany backing the program through the DLR space administration.

An Airbus A330 multirole tanker transport aircraft is due to fly the laser terminal this summer as a test for military aircraft and drones, Dudok said.

The satellite laser terminal allows transfer of 1.8 gigabits per second, up to 50 terabytes a day at a near real-time rate, compared to the present delay of often three to four hours, Airbus DS said. Airbus refers to the EDRS as SpaceDataHighway program.

A second EDRS-C satellite is due to be launched as a back-up unit.

The laser terminal has been tested with 180 links on the two Sentinel Earth observation satellites in orbit and will go operational once in orbit on the EDRS. The laser terminal can be placed on future satellites, aircraft and drones. The satellite terminal weighs 50 kilograms, while the aircraft and drone terminal weighs 15 kilograms.

General Atomics has partnered with Airbus DS to develop a laser terminal for aircraft. The US company “is a good partner” but is not moving at a speed the market needs, Dudok said.

Airbus, as a private partner, handles the marketing of the laser terminal to prospective clients.

The EDRS payload will be fitted to a Eutelsat 9B satellite, which is due to be launched into space on a Proton launcher at Baikonur, Russia. The laser package was due to be put into orbit last year but the loss of a Proton at launch delayed the delivery into space, Space News reported June 18.

A near real-time observation capability can help maritime users detect shipping routes through ice, provide crisis management in floods and natural catastrophes, and spot oil tankers dumping loads at sea, with the data security preventing those polluters from intercepting the transmissions and being forewarned.

Email: ptran@defensenews.com

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