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AAC Clyde Space and TNO Demonstrate Laser Communication Data Downlink

By Rachel Jewett | January 24, 2024

NORSAT-TD with SmallCAT laser communication system/ Photo: University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies Space Flight Laboratory

Dutch research firm TNO and AAC ClydeSpace have successfully transferred data from a laser satellite communications terminal in space down to Earth in a recent demonstration. The laser communication system called SmallCAT was launched in April 2023 aboard NORSAT-TD, a satellite operated by the Norwegian Space Agency

TNO said in a Wednesday announcement that the organization performed tests to establish a connection between the satellite, optical ground stations in The Hague and the European Space Agency’s IZN-1 optical ground station in Tenerife, Spain.

During several experiments TNO succeeded in finding both ground stations from space and sending back and recapturing the laser beams. Data was transferred from the satellite instrument and received by the optical ground station in The Hague at a maximum data rate of 1 gigabit per second.

“This pivotal milestone marks a significant achievement in advancing technological sovereignty for both the Netherlands and Europe in a strong NATO, as it will enable faster and more secure broadband connectivity,” commented Kees Buijsrogge, director of TNO Space. “It’s a provisional outcome of collaborative endeavors within a nascent Dutch industry specializing in optical satellite communication.” 

SmallCAT was developed by a consortium led by TNO, including AAC Hyperion, which is AAC Group’s subsidiary in the Netherlands, and Gooch & Housego. The ground station at TNO in The Hague was developed by TNO with Airbus Netherlands. The development was financed by the Netherlands Space Office (NSO) through the ESA ARTES ScyLight program and the Dutch Ministry of Defense’s innovation budget. TNO also contributed funding. 

AAC Clyde Space said that a commercial version of the CubeCAT terminal will be commercialized for nanosatellites by AAC Hyperion with its Dutch partner FSO Instruments.