e2E chosen to support the development of a new laser-based satellite communications system

e2E chosen to support the development of a new laser-based satellite communications system

The UK Space Agency has awarded a large contract to a consortium of high-tech companies and academic Institutions led by Northumbria University, to develop the first commercially available laser-based inter-satellite communications system. In addition to the leading role of Northumbria University, the partnership sees the contribution from e2E, an independent UK satcom design house, systems engineering and consultancy group, Durham University’s Centre for Advanced Instrumentation, and SMS Electronics, a telecoms and electronics manufacturing company.

Northumbria University and its partners will develop the new laser-based communications system for small satellites, known as CubeSats, which has the potential to transform the satellite communications industry. In fact, by using lasers instead of Radio Frequency (RF), CubeSats become much more secure and can transmit up to 1,000 times more data per second than a conventional RF similar satellite. This will pose a significant challenge as it requires optical technologies normally used on much larger scales to be redesigned and redeveloped to fit into a much smaller device and withstand the atmospheric conditions in space.

e2E will provide specialised communications systems engineering and development of very low form factor modules by drawing on its experience of miniaturising satellite terminals and modems through the use of Software Defined Radio (SDR) and System on Chip (SoC) architectures. e2E is already well-known for its wide range of expertise in satellite-based communications and has been increasingly supporting new technologies and communication networks.

Barry Ross, CEO of e2E said: “We are extremely proud to be supporting a project that is developing a world-leading system that we believe will play an essential role in future global satellite communication networks delivering ubiquitous, high-speed communications for air, land and maritime applications. e2E is at the forefront of these break-through technology developments that will enable solutions and services to simultaneously meet the growing and demanding requirements for governmental and commercial communications.”

Trevor Beard, e2E’s Head of R&D said: “It is inspiring to work with such an impressive set of partners and for us to contribute with our own experience in low Size Weight and Power electronics, development of real-time logic and software, and in systems engineering.”

The UK Space Agency announced the award of almost £7 million of funding through its National Space Innovation Programme. The Northumbria University lead project is one of eleven leading UK organisations, including a mixture of businesses and just three other universities – Cambridge, Edinburgh and the Open University – to have been awarded a share of the funding to put into action the latest advances in space innovation.

The majority of the projects focus on climate change or environmental management, but Northumbria’s this is the only project relating to satellite communications to receive funding, giving recognition to the world-leading work being carried out in the North-East region around satellite communications technologies.

Dr Eamon Scullion, a solar physicist in Northumbria’s Solar-Terrestrial Science research group, is leading the project. He said: “We are absolutely delighted to have secured this funding to further our research. This award will enable us to move to the next phase of our plans, where we can put our ideas into practice to build and test our designs.

“This is no mean feat. We need to carefully design, test and miniaturise electronic boards, optical lasers, receivers and transmitters which can fit together in the satellites and be ‘space qualified’, meaning they will be tested to ensure they continue to work at an optimal level whilst in orbit, dealing with the impact of radiation, atmospheric drag and extremely cold space temperatures.”

Science Minister George Freeman said the awards would help the UK put into action the latest advances in space innovation. “Satellites in space are helping us solve some of the most significant challenges we face,” he said. “Through the National Space Strategy, we are putting the UK at the forefront of unleashing these innovations. This new funding will take game-changing ideas from the UK space sector and our brilliant scientists and turn them into reality.”

It is hoped that the first devices will be ready for extensive testing in early 2023, with a goal to send them into orbit by 2025.

TAO’s light than air vessels are capable of flying at high altitudes; typically into the stratosphere, supporting various applications including communications services. “e2E have innovative, advanced and lightweight comms systems which fit nicely onto the TAO platform concept” – Glenn Jones, Managing Director, TAO Tech UK Ltd.

Whilst TAO Tech will own the development and operation of the platform, e2E will be developing a range of satellite communications nodes based on a proprietary low Size, Weight and Power (SWaP) architecture and Software Defined Radio (SDR) design. Both companies will work together to explore and generate commercial opportunities in this sector addressing technology, operations and services related aspects.

Barry Ross, CEO of e2E said, “e2E is pleased to be working in collaboration with TAO Tech UK and on their developing HAP. With our concentration on satellite-based communications and connectivity, we feel this provides good synergies with the TAO team going forward.”