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Lasers ‘to drive up satellite communications capacity’, says report

Euroconsult report cover.jpg

There will be 250 satellites in service that use lasers instead of radio for communications between themselves, according to Euroconsult.

The satellite consultancy says that there were fewer than 10 such satellites in orbit at the end of 2021, but this sector is now increasing rapidly.

There will be 70,000 optical units – the communications devices inside the optical satellites – in service by 2031, says Euroconsult.

What’s driving the market is inter-satellite links, driven by increasing adoption among low Earth orbit (LEO) and medium Earth orbit (MEO) broadband networks. This sector is “largely dominant”, says the report.

But “optical communications will also enable data-relay space services thanks to terminals used for third-party communications, usually to transfer data to satellites orbiting at different altitudes”, it adds.

It expects Earth observation data providers will be the main stimulators for this growth.

Euroconsult calls this “a dynamic new market for optical communications terminals and inter-satellite links”.

Optical communication data transmission offers many potential advantages to satellite operators, says the report, “including higher data throughput rates, which are essential for handling the continuous global increase in demand for data exchange”.

The report adds: “Another key advantage is the narrowness of the light beam, which makes it more complicated to intercept and helps ensure information security.”

Major satellite operators “see the benefits of switching inter-satellite communication from mainly by radiofrequency electromagnetic waves to optical or laser communication, but there are key technological challenges to address before widespread adoption, including link reliability governed by beam accuracy”.

Optical terminals will also be used for communications between satellites and Earth, it adds. “But given the physical constraints for such communications, the technology is not yet mature and development efforts are being made by most manufacturers.” There will be “around 450” of those satellites by 2031, adds the report.