SpaceDataHighway: observing Earth

SpaceDataHighway: observing Earth
EDRS Global allows information gathered by low-orbiting satellites and unmanned aircraft to be sent anywhere on Earth in quasi-real time. ©ESA

The Airbus-operated SpaceDataHighway has begun regularly relaying data from the Sentinel-2A satellite after the successful end of the commissioning period, marking the start of the service using all Copernicus Sentinels.

The first two sets of Earth-observing Copernicus Sentinels (-1A and -1B and -2A and -2B) are signed up to this service as SpaceDataHighway’s anchor customers under an agreement between the European Union (EU) and the European Space Agency (ESA) as owners of the Copernicus programme, and Airbus as the owner and commercial operator of SpaceDataHighway.

The Sentinel-1 constellation has increased the amount of data it produces by about 50% since using the SpaceDataHighway. It also brings added value to the Sentinel users by greatly improving the data timelines for observations outside Europe, an important aspect for:

  • Monitoring maritime applications;
  • Assessment of natural disasters; and
  • First line response for emergency.

Based on cutting edge laser technology, the SpaceDataHighway will be a unique system of satellites permanently fixed over a network of ground stations. Each day, it can relay up to 40 terabytes of data acquired by observation satellites, UAVs and manned aircraft, at a rate of 1.8 Gbit/s.

How will data be collected?

The satellites are designed to lock on to low-orbiting satellites by using lasers and collect their data as they travel by, scanning the Earth. The data collected by the SpaceDataHighway is then sent to Europe from its position.

This process allows other satellites to hold more data as they can downlink the information gathered, instead of having to store it.

The SpaceDataHighway is a public–private partnership between ESA and Airbus, with the laser terminals developed by Tesat-Spacecom and the DLR German Space Administration.

EDRS-A, the first SpaceDataHighway relay satellite launched in January 2016, offers coverage from the American East Coast to India. A second satellite will be launched in 2018. It will double the capacity of the system and extend the coverage.

Project manager for ESA’s European Data Relay System (EDRS), Dr Michael Witting, spoke to SciTech Europa about how the system works.

Source: Airbus

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