TSAT Update: Lasercom Test Successful
As DID noted in its focus article covering the $14-18 billion TSAT program and the future of the US SATCOM network, the U.S. has a big choice to make in 2007. It will either decide to build the TSAT system on its current schedule for launch in 2013-2016, or it will postpone TSAT, take stopgap measures and add Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites 4 & 5 to the three AEHF satellites slated for launch from 2009-2012. Lockheed Martin and Boeing have won major risk reduction contracts for the TSAT SS satellite system, in hopes of making that Plan B unnecessary.
One of the key risk areas is laser communications, which uses precisely-aimed, modulated beams of light fired through space to transmit vast amounts of data. Northrop-Grumman and Team Lockheed recently announced the successful completion of a preliminary lasercom compatibility test at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory.
The testing demonstrated a single-access optical aperture, which is the front end of a laser communications terminal. The beam width of a lasercom terminal is extremely small, requiring precision pointing, scanning and tracking performance to lock on to and communicate with another terminal. The other challenge is maintaining tracking, using mechanized mirrors in the optical aperture to point toward and track the other terminal. Northrop Grumman’s partner, SSG Precision Optronics in Wilmington, MA, manufactured the telescope used in the test.
The test measured the quality of communication between the Northrop Grumman lasercom terminal and the government terminal (OSVS) testbed, including the ability to point, acquire and track another lasercom terminal and to maintain that tracking in the presence of spacecraft jitter (shaking). Test results proved the hardware can perform at data rates of 10 and 40 gigabits/second and “is at a level of maturity consistent with objectives for OSVS-1.”
The second phase of testing, OSVS-2, is scheduled to be complete by February 2007. See corporate release.