To deliver High speed broadband via satellite is key to complete the coverage of European citizens unserved or underserved by high speed terrestrial network. Indeed, Vice‐President of the European Commission Neelie Kroes recognised on October 17th 2013 at the Broadband‐for‐All event that: “Thanks to the extra coverage provided by satellite broadband, we have achieved our 2013 target of broadband for all”.
This has been made possible by the drastic enhancement of satellite broadband services which took place in the last few years with the arrival on the market of High Throughput Satellites.
The first generation of broadband satellites was providing a total capacity up to 20 Gbps in a first attempt to make satellite communications suitable for broadband market.
Since 2011, the 2nd generation of Ka‐band satellites is achieving an economy of scale, reaching total capacities from 90 Gbps to 140 Gbps.
However, while this generation of Ka band HTS satellites can cover consumer demand up to 30 Mbps, it will not be provide a viable economic model to fulfil DAE 2020 objectives stating that all Europeans get access to internet speeds of 30Mbps and 50% of European households subscribe to internet connections above 100 Mbps by 2020.
This generates the need to start now designing broadband satellite systems reaching the Terabit/s capacity or beyond while drastically reducing the cost of the Mbps in orbit. ”quote BATS or TERABIT programs”
In addition, since most operators have now experienced the fact that the broadband market is very difficult to predict, it is important that this large increase in capacity is accompanied by the possibility to reallocate capacity after launch or even dynamically to follow the daily evolution of internet connection demands through various time zones of the covered areas. Such flexibility has become a must for operators to adapt to the market evolution throughout the satellite life‐time and secure their business plan.
With Telecoms payloads based on traditional RF equipment, increase in capacity and flexibility has always translated into a more or less linear increase in equipment count, mass, consumption and heat dissipation.
The main challenge of this next Terabit/s generation of HTS is therefore to provide a ten‐fold‐increased capacity with enhanced flexibility while maintaining the overall satellite within a “launchable” volume and mass envelope. And this envelope is only expected to grow by a fraction of this 10x factor in the meantime.
For example, by 2020, the next Airbus DS GEO platform Eurostar Neo will be able to carry payloads of up to 22kW of DC power for a total satellite launch mass of up to 7.7tons, while Eutelsat Ka‐Sat, which entered commercial service in May 2011 and provides about 80Gbps of broadband services over Europe and North Africa already had a launch mass of 6.15 tons for a DC power of 11kW.
A very promising way to tackle these issues is the introduction of photonics payload.
Photonics technology refers to techniques and equipment that convert RF signals at the input of the payload into optical signals.
These optical signals can then:
These techniques are often referred to as “RF‐over‐ fibre” or “microwave optics” and have been widely used for terrestrial applications such as CATV distribution or more importantly Fibre‐To‐The‐Home applications, where the end‐user modem connects to the optical fibre network via a coaxial cable.
More generally Fibre Optics has largely contributed to the booming development of the internet over the 2 last decades.
However, while the corresponding components, devices and equipment are nowadays mass‐produced for terrestrial applications, they remain mostly inaccessible to the space industry.
This is mainly due to the contrast between the high level of effort required to produce equipment qualified for the harsh and peculiar space‐environment and the relatively low volume of units required for space applications compared to space applications.
Nevertheless, in the recent past, several joint initiatives between European companies from the both terrestrial optical communications and space industries have emerged, with a view to bridge that gap and adapt some of the terrestrial products to space environment.
However, so far, these initiatives have remained mostly isolated and cannot on their own fulfil the midterm goals of:
The OPTIMA project aims at giving a strong initial impulse to the photonics payloads for telecommunication satellites by focusing the efforts of various industrial and academic actors from the photonics and space European landscape towards the concrete goal of demonstrating the validity of the photonic payload concept and associated benefits in a real‐world working organization.