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June 3, 2021

SDA contracts GA-EMS to demonstrate space-to-air optical communication

During the experiment, the LEO-based spacecraft will try to establish communication with an airborne MQ-9 UAV.

General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) has received a contract to demonstrate space-to-air optical communication using its Laser Interconnect and Networking Communication System (LINCS) and a MQ-9 Reaper.

The contract to conduct space-to-air optical communication experiment was awarded by the US Space Development Agency (SDA).

SDA is the US Department of Defense’s (DoD) constructive disruptor for space acquisition.

Under this contract, GA-EMS and SDA will conduct a suite of experiments later this summer.

GA-EMS president Scott Forney said: “This space-to-air experiment is one of the first steps to validate the use of optical communication to provide low latency, secure data directly to weapons and warfighters operating in theatre, a key enabler for Joint All-Domain Command and Control.

“This award demonstrates the efficacy of GA-EMS’ optical communication technology to support the full requirements of the National Defense Space Architecture.”

LINCS is an internally developed spacecraft and consists of two 12U cubesats. A C-band dual-wavelength full-duplex Optical Communication Terminal (OCT) and an Infrared (IR) payload are hosted on each of the cubesats.

The demonstration will see the spacecraft communicate with a GA-EMS OCT integrated on a General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 in flight at some 25,000ft.

GA-EMS and SDA are collaborating to launch the LINCS this month. On 1 June, the company performed a free space interconnect demonstration ground test of the LINCS spacecraft.

GA-EMS Missile Defense and Space Systems vice-president Nick Bucci said: “Optical communication to an air, ground, or maritime asset proposes a different set of challenges than space-to-space communication, because you have to account for distortions to the optical beam caused by atmospheric elements like weather, clouds, dust, and even wind.

“GA-EMS has invested significantly in enabling technologies, including adaptive optics that compensate for such distortions, to allow our OCTs to provide two-way, low latency, high-bandwidth, secure communication to warfighters in whatever domain they operate.”

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