Tiny Norwegian Cubesat Communicates with Earth for the First Time Using Lasers, with no alterations. The NorSat-TD demonstration microsatellite has achieved a significant landmark by successfully transmitting data to a ground station using optical communication technology.
Developed by the Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) for the Norwegian Space Agency (NOSA), this accomplishment marks a historical first for a Dutch-built laser communication device and stands among the pioneering achievements in the realm of microsatellites.
Optical, or laser, communication between satellites and ground stations facilitates faster and more secure transmission of larger datasets compared to conventional radio communications.
This breakthrough is particularly vital for the reliable delivery of data collected or relayed by satellites in low Earth orbit, supporting applications such as Earth observation, telecommunications, atmospheric monitoring, maritime ship tracking, and space astronomy.
The success of optical satellite communication depends on two key technologies. Firstly, precision attitude control, a formidable challenge for low-mass spacecraft, enables the microsatellite to accurately and continuously point at the ground station during its rapid overhead passage at 7.5 km per second.
NorSat-TD addressed this challenge by incorporating innovative small satellite stabilization and pointing capabilities developed and refined by SFL through multiple operational missions.
Secondly, a high-quality onboard laser terminal with a fine steering mirror is essential for directing the narrow optical beam onto a ground station lighthouse.
The Small Communication Active Terminal (SmallCAT) laser communications system aboard NorSat-TD was developed by a consortium of organizations led by TNO (The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research) in the Netherlands.
Reflective on this technological feat, SFL Director Dr. Robert E. Zee remarked, “The successful demonstration of satellite-to-ground communication by the 35-kg NorSat-TD microsatellite significantly expands the utility of affordable smaller satellites, which are more cost-effective than conventional spacecraft in terms of development, launch, and operation.”