The Netherlands Organinzation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) is ready to get started on phase two of the Terabit Optical Communication Adaptive Terminal (Tomcat) project with the European Space Agency (ESA). In addition to TNO, ESA is bringing together several big names of Dutch high tech and the space industry, including Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands, Demcon and Hittech Multin. The project’s aim is to enable high-throughput laser communications between ground stations and satellites in order to realize data transmission speeds of up to 1 terabit per second – about 100 times faster than the expected transmission rates of 5G.
Tomcat is a co-funded activity in which TNO, the companies involved, the Canadian Space Agency and the Netherlands Space Office invest through the ESA’s Artes Strategic Program Line Scylight. Key technologies include high-bandwidth adaptive optics, thermally stable optomechanics, high-power photonics, and high-throughput optical transceivers. One of the innovative elements of this system is its ability to pre-correct the laser light with adaptive optics. When light moves between the surface of the earth and space, it gets distorted due to the fluctuations in the atmosphere. Tomcat measures the distortion of the received laser light from the satellite, and by applying the inverse of this distortion to the transmitted light, a robust communication link can be established.