Press release – Delft, 5 January 2021
Dutch consortium secures technology demonstration within the ESA ScyLight programme
Ultra-high data rates for small satellites, free of licencing fees and year-long application processes – this will soon be reality. Thanks to the award to carry out an ESA ScyLight technology demonstration project supported by the Netherlands Ministry of Defense and Netherlands Space Office (NSO), a Dutch consortium consisting of TNO and Hyperion Technologies will be launching the jointly developed laser satellite terminal into space. Target launch is set for early 2022 on board the NorSat-TD satellite.
The plug-and-play terminal, called CubeCAT, will enable future small satellites to downlink data with speeds up to 1 Gbps and uplink of 200 Kbps. Currently, small satellites are limited in bandwidth using radio communications with much slower throughput. In addition, the application process to obtain a licence to send and receive on a dedicated radio frequency takes often one to two years. This is not the case for laser communication.
Bert Monna, Managing Director of Hyperion Technologies, explains the rationale for developing laser communication for small satellites:
“Our clients’ mission success depends very much on how much satellite data they can get back to Earth. Imagine having a novel camera onboard of a satellite that can shoot high-resolution images. Within one 90 minute orbit it can only operate for four to six minutes because it cannot download all of the data fast enough. What doesn’t get downloaded, is overwritten in the next orbit. Does this mean we should take lower resolution images? Should we be satisfied with this quantity? Both options are not acceptable. We chose to address the bottleneck of bandwidth with the development of CubeCAT and bring a new era to small satellites.”
CubeCAT, with its 1U form factor, low power needs and low mass, can be easily integrated into small satellites. In addition, the developers added an on-board data management system, featuring a large data storage buffer, into the terminal.
Small series production in the Netherlands
To address a worldwide market, Hyperion counts on a robust value chain of Dutch laser equipment suppliers. Jointly organised in the FSO Instruments consortium, Hyperion is confident to be able to produce small series of CubeCATs for satellite constellations around the globe. Larger volumes will ultimately also reduce the cost of such missions.
The demonstration of CubeCAT relies of course on the availability of an optical ground stations to receive data. Within the ScyLight project, TNO is building an optical ground station in The Hague, Netherlands. FSO Instruments as well as Hyperion are equally involved by providing key elements, ranging from optical benches, deformable mirrors and receiver technology. ESA’s optical ground station in Tenerife, Spain, and other stations will also support the downlinking of data. Ultimately, the consortium will be able to support laser communication needs for sending and receiving in space, air and ground.
Bert Monna added:
“We believe that our solution will change the landscape of small satellites, for two reasons: First, together with TNO we are able to address all laser technology needs on space and on ground. This enables us to offer a holistic and integrated system from the start. Secondly, working with a research institute ensures that our solution is, and stays, cutting edge.”
Worldwide market entry
The recent acquisition of Hyperion Technologies by AAC Clyde Space is expected to grant even more clients access to this technology. AAC Clyde Space is based in Sweden, Scotland and, following the equally recent acquisition of Space Quest, now also in the USA. In the future, CubeCAT can be offered as a standard technology option to its worldwide client base.
NorSat-TD is a technology demonstration mission managed by the Norwegian Space Centre (NOSA). It will be built and integrated by the UTIAS Space Flight Laboratory (University of Toronto, Institute for Aerospace Studies).
About Hyperion Technologies
Hyperion Technologies is a Dutch space company located in Delft, Netherlands. It has been recently acquired by the Swedish-Scottish group AAC Clyde Space. As part of the Group, Hyperion will continue operating from the Netherlands and become further integrated with the Group’s international locations in Uppsala (Sweden), Glasgow (Scotland) and Fairfax (Virginia, USA).
Having been active since 2013, Hyperion specialises in the development of miniaturised, high-performance and smart components for small satellites as well as satellite platforms for complete missions. This includes both hardware and software. Hyperion follows the philosophy to provide the best-in-class products to its clients worldwide, scratching at the limits of the physically possible within the scope of miniaturisation.
About AAC Clyde Space
AAC Clyde Space offers turnkey solutions and services from mission design to on-orbit operations, including reliable customizable satellite platforms in the range of 1 to 50 Kg and a full range of subsystems for cube and small satellites. With unrivalled flight heritage and end-to-end service, AAC Clyde Space enables customers to reach their mission goals through a single, trusted point of contact.
The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) is an independent research organization. We connect people and knowledge to create innovations that boost the sustainable competitive strength of industry and well-being of society. Now and in the future. This is our mission and it is what drives us, the over 3.500 professionals at TNO, in our work every day. We work in collaboration with partners and focus on transitions or changes in nine social themes that we have identified together with our stakeholders.
About FSO Instruments
FSO Instruments is a consortium of select Dutch companies, serving the laser communication equipment market. Powered by TNO, it aims at commercialising co-developed solutions worldwide. The members are VDL, Demcon, Nedinsco and Hyperion Technologies – with each organisation contributing with unique expertise in the value chain of free space optical connectivity.
About ESA ScyLight
Within the ARTES 4.0 programme, the European Space Agency (ESA) implemented a dedicated element for optical communications, photonics and quantum communication, called ScyLight (SeCure and Laser communication Technology, pronounced “skylight”). ScyLight is one of three Strategic Programme Lines that ESAs Member states have setup to put particular focus on areas like Optical Communications (ScyLight), 4S and Space for 5G. ARTES 4.0 is the Agency’s main programme for technology developments in the field of satellite communications.
About Netherlands Space Office
Netherlands Space Office is a cooperation of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research and executes the space policy of the Netherlands.