New space communication station built in WA hardware

New space communication station built in WA hardware
New space communication station built in WA hardware

Optical telescope. Source: UWA

The University of Western Australia (UWA) will install an optical communication station capable of receiving high-speed data transmissions from space.

The communication station can receive data from spacecraft from near-earth orbit (between 160 km and 1000 km above the surface of the earth) to the surface of the moon – approximately 384,000 km away.

Dr. Sascha Schediwy, head of the Astrophotonics Group at UWA and the International Center for Radio Astronomy (ICRAR), said optical communication is an emerging alternative to radio waves and is expected to dramatically improve data transmission capabilities from space.

“Most of today’s space communications are based on radio waves – it’s the same technology that the voice of Neil Armstrong brought us when the 1969 Apollo 11 mission landed on the moon,” Schediwy said in a statement.

“Optical laser communication in free space offers several advantages over radio, including significantly faster data rates and hack-proof data transmission.

“It’s the next generation of space communication, and we will likely see high-resolution footage of the first woman to walk on the moon.”

The $ 535,000 ground station will use an observatory-grade optical telescope measuring 0.7m, donated to ICRAR by Colin Eldridge of Perth, which will be equipped with a university-developed atmospheric noise suppression technology.

The West Australian ground station will be a joint venture between the UWA Astrophotonics Group, the ARC competence center for technical quantum systems (EQUS) and the British industrial partner Goonhilly Earth Station, which handles data traffic and supports secure communication links for large satellite operators, including Intelsat, Eutelsat and SES satellites.

The data from the station is fed into Goonhilly’s supercomputer data center in Cornwall, England, via high-speed fiber.

It will be part of a larger Australasian optical station network led by the Australian National University and supported by partners in South Australia and New Zealand.

EQUS Director, Professor Andrew White, said the West Australian ground station could be the first of its kind in the southern hemisphere and have additional research applications in various fields.

Ian Jones, CEO of Goonhilly, said the initiative is pushing satellite communications into the next generations of systems and technologies needed to support the “massive” volume of data generated by space missions.

“This data comes from science and other missions and will come from lunar and Mars missions in the future that include remote operations, robotics and AI,” said Jones.

“We are proud to be joint pioneers in the practical implementation of coherent optical communication.”

The ground station is expected to be operational from early 2021 and open for operation later this year.

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