Aerospace company Airbus, with support from the European Space Agency (ESA), has developed the Airbus SpaceDataHighway, which provides broadband connectivity services between the International Space Station (ISS) and Earth.
The Columbus Ka-band (ColKa) terminal has been installed and fully tested on board the ISS, and a SpaceDataHighway satellite will begin relaying data via a two-way real-time link between the ISS Columbus laboratory and the Columbus control center located at the German Aerospace Center near Munich, as well as at research centers across Europe.
Thanks to the SpaceDataHighway and the ColKa terminal, ESA will benefit from direct and sovereign access to the ISS, thus increasing operational flexibility and allowing more astronauts, scientists and researchers to benefit from a direct link with Europe.
It will also allow ESA to create slots for access to ad hoc experiments and interaction with European astronauts, Airbus said.
“SpaceDataHighway is the world’s first geostationary laser communication constellation. It represents a game-changer in the speed of space communications, using state-of-the-art laser technology to provide near real-time secure data transfer services. The system has made over 50,000 successful laser connections in the first five years of routine operation.
The provision of the ColKa data service has been contracted between ESA and Airbus. As part of this new SpaceDataHighway service, Airbus has adapted its Ka-band inter-satellite link to ensure that data will be routed through the ground station at the Harwell campus in the UK.
Airbus satellites can connect to the ISS, as well as observation satellites in low orbit at a distance of up to 45,000 km. From its position in geostationary orbit, the SpaceDataHighway system relays the collected data back to Earth in near real time, a process that would normally take several hours.
It thus makes it possible to greatly increase the quantity of image and video data transmitted by the observation satellites and to reprogram their mission plan at any time and in a few minutes.
“With SpaceDataHighway, Airbus already serves four Copernicus Sentinel satellites daily and continues to expand its services to more customers.
“Airbus’ Pleiades Neo advanced optical Earth observation constellation, with four 30cm resolution satellites, are the next satellites to benefit from SpaceDataHighway’s infrastructure and will further optimize mission responsiveness by providing data near real-time and responsive task capabilities,” the company said.