Space Data Highway

Space Data Highway (image from ESA)

Infrastructure aids us in our daily tasks. Usually we think of roads, rail lines and air ports when thinking of aids. Now, space is also getting aids. The European Space Agency has begun a Space Data Highway or European Data Relay System (EDRS). This infrastructure serves to transfer data to and from the Earth to locations high above the earth: like a geosynchronous satellite, the ISS or maybe an orbiter about Mars.  Aside from demonstrating the advancing demands we are placing with our activities in space, this infrastructure demonstrates two other very practical feats.

1)  The Space Data Highway uses lasers to transmit the data. Though NASA demonstrated this principal by sending data to the Moon and back, the EDRS relays between two satellites and between a satellite and the Earth.  Seems simple but just imagine the accuracy needed to maintain a beam of light pointed at a dot that’s 45 000km away! And then keeping the pot of light upon the dot while the satellites changes shape due to thermal flexing. They did it. And the result is a delivery of 1800 Mbit/sec data.

2) The Space Data Highway is funded as a public partner partnership (PPP). Presently two satellites relay data from Europe to and from space. For a planned 15 years. So take the expected data rate, the lifetime and the amortization of the design and development and you can determine the data relay charges. And there are more satellites on the way for the EDRS constellation.

The EDRS enables data sources such as the Copernicus system to download data in near real time to Europe. They also aid space systems by reducing the data demand being placed upon the existing infrastructure, principally the ground stations.

And this EDRS infrastructure is in place through a PPP. Where else can you see PPP emplacing infrastructure?