Europe's space-based, laser-powered data
highway passes early test
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[December 01, 2014]
By Maria Sheahan
FRANKFURT (Reuters) - A European satellite
beamed images to earth using new laser-based communications technology
on Friday, opening the way for uninterrupted and near instantaneous
viewing of natural disasters being sent to governments and relief
The images were a test of a 450 million euro ($562 million) space
data highway being constructed. Called European Data Relay Satellite
(EDRS), it will allow faster and more secure transmission of large
amounts of data, such as pictures and radar images, to and from
It is seen as particularly useful for monitoring flood and
earthquake damage in real time.
"Currently, a satellite downloads the data that it acquires whenever
it is within view of one of four ground stations on earth," Josef
Aschbacher, head of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Earth
Observation Program Planning & Coordination Service, told Reuters
ahead of Friday's transmission.
"That means there can be periods of 45 to 90 minutes from the
visibility of one station to another," he said.
Once completed, EDRS will do away with such blind spots by using two
satellites - to be launched in 2015 and 2016 and equipped with laser
technology - to send data to and from Earth or between satellites at
a rate of 1.8 Gigabits per second.
That is about equivalent to sending all the data that could be
printed in a one-meter long shelf of books in one second, according
to generally accepted industry measures.
EDRS will also offer encryption for more secure transmissions, and
will make Europe less dependent on ground stations abroad to access
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In Friday's transmission, a satellite launched as part of Europe's
Copernicus project in April, Sentinel-1a, sent images across a
distance of 36,000 kms (22,369 miles) to Inmarsat's communications
satellite Alphasat, which relayed the signal to earth.
The demonstration of the new technology is key to getting the
European Commission's go-ahead for the space agency to sign an
agreement making Airbus unit Astrium the operator of EDRS ahead of a
Dec. 22 deadline.
EDRS will later relay data on sea ice, oil spills or floods from the
multi-billion euro Copernicus earth observation project, but its
services will also be available to other paying customers.
(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)
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