License-free lasers link LEO microsatellites in real-time
Sony Group announced that it’s created a new company to build laser-powered satellites. Sony Space Communications (SSC) Corp., headquartered in San Mateo, Calif., Is the moniker for Sony’s newly minted, wholly owned subsidiary. Don’t worry, SSC isn’t building weapons platforms in outer space: they’re trying to tackle thorny radio frequency (RF) communication bottlenecks and power consumption issues facing Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, by using optical lasers in place of radios.
The goal, said Sony, is to enable real-time communication from group to space. There’s another practical advantage: Optical communication isn’t licensed the same way RF communication is.
Kyohei Iwamoto, president, Sony Space Communications Corporation, laid out the challenges in a statement.
“Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites need to communicate with the ground, so a large number of communications facilities are required for real-time communications, which is problematic because these satellites must pass directly over a ground station to communicate with it. Additionally, the need for frequency licenses for radio waves and the requirement for lower power consumption of communication equipment needed by smaller satellites, like micro satellites, are also issues to be addressed, ”said Iwamoto.
SSC’s strategy to contend with this is to develop optical communications equipment to help microsatellites parked in low earth orbit.
“By using optical communications, SSC aims to realize high-speed communications with small devices, which are physically difficult to achieve with conventional radio communications because conventional communications require large antenna and high power output,” explained Sony.
There’s no timetable for when Sony plans to offer the new products, or who its customers are, specifically, but Sony says the technology is proven. Sony trialed the technology using Kibo, an experimental module installed on the International Space Station (ISS). Sony tested the Small Optical Link for International Space Station (SOLISS) successfully in 2020.
Sony’s foray is more forward motion for the burgeoning Non Terrestrial Network (NTN) market. NTN players are jockeying for early mover advantages, banking on the future growth of 5G. 5G’s support for NTN makes it possible for networks to be built using High-Altitude Platforms (HAPS) and LEO satellite arrays. Several companies are developing solutions and testing technologies designed to support HAPS and LEO 5G networks.
The promise of NTNs is the delivery of 5G bandwidth and services over geographical areas where terrestrial cellular network infrastructure is impractical – open ocean, for example, underpopulated rural areas or remote locations far away from developed infrastructure.