SFL Developed Norwegian Microsatellite Achieves Optical Communications Link

SFL Developed Norwegian Microsatellite Achieves Optical Communications Link

The Norwegian Space Agency (NOSA)'s NorSat-TD demonstration microsatellite developed by Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) has successfully transferred data to a ground station using optical communications technology. The accomplishment is a first for a Dutch-built laser communication device and among the first achieved by a microsatellite. 

Optical, or laser, communications between a satellite and ground station enable faster and more secure transmission of larger data sets than typically possible with radio communications. Reliable delivery of data either collected or relayed by satellites is vital to most low Earth orbit applications, including Earth observation, telecommunications, atmospheric monitoring, maritime ship tracking, and space astronomy.

“The successful demonstration of satellite-to-ground communication by the 35-kg NorSat-TD microsatellite greatly expands the utility of affordable smaller satellites that are more cost effective than traditional spacecraft to develop, launch, and operate,” said SFL Director Dr. Robert E. Zee.

Two technologies are critical for optical satellite communications. The first is precise attitude control – a challenge for low-mass spacecraft – that allows the microsatellite to accurately and continuously point at the ground station for several minutes as the spacecraft passes overhead at 7.5 km per second. NorSat-TD incorporates barrier-breaking small satellite stability and pointing capabilities developed and refined by SFL in dozens of operational missions.

The second and equally important key to optical satellite-to-ground communication is a high-quality onboard laser terminal with a fine steering mirror that locks the extremely narrow optical beam onto a ground station beacon. The Small Communication Active Terminal (SmallCAT) laser communication system aboard NorSat-TD was developed by a consortium of organizations led by TNO (The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research) of the Netherlands.

Commenting on the success of the NorSat-TD optical communications demonstration, NOSA Senior Advisor, Tyler Jones, said, “The quality of the pointing performance of SFL’s DEFIANT bus speaks for itself. NOSA is also pleased with the flexibility and problem solving that SFL demonstrated while accommodating the SmallCAT terminal in the NorSat-TD design, and working through payload evolutions with TNO.”

Launched in April 2023, NorSat-TD was the sixth mission developed by SFL for Norway. Designed primarily as a maritime ship tracking mission, the demonstration microsatellite also carried experimental payloads for enhanced GPS positioning, spacecraft tracking by laser, and iodine-fueled propulsion, in addition to the SmallCAT terminal. NorSat-4, now under development at SFL for a 2024 launch, will feature a first-of-its-kind low-light imaging sensor.

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Publisher: SatNow

GNSS Constellations - A list of all GNSS satellites by constellations

beidou

Satellite NameOrbit Date
BeiDou-3 G4Geostationary Orbit (GEO)17 May, 2023
BeiDou-3 G2Geostationary Orbit (GEO)09 Mar, 2020
Compass-IGSO7Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)09 Feb, 2020
BeiDou-3 M19Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)16 Dec, 2019
BeiDou-3 M20Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)16 Dec, 2019
BeiDou-3 M21Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)23 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 M22Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)23 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 I3Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)04 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 M23Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)22 Sep, 2019
BeiDou-3 M24Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)22 Sep, 2019

galileo

Satellite NameOrbit Date
GSAT0223MEO - Near-Circular05 Dec, 2021
GSAT0224MEO - Near-Circular05 Dec, 2021
GSAT0219MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0220MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0221MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0222MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0215MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0216MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0217MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0218MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017

glonass

Satellite NameOrbit Date
Kosmos 2569--07 Aug, 2023
Kosmos 2564--28 Nov, 2022
Kosmos 2559--10 Oct, 2022
Kosmos 2557--07 Jul, 2022
Kosmos 2547--25 Oct, 2020
Kosmos 2545--16 Mar, 2020
Kosmos 2544--11 Dec, 2019
Kosmos 2534--27 May, 2019
Kosmos 2529--03 Nov, 2018
Kosmos 2527--16 Jun, 2018

gps

Satellite NameOrbit Date
Navstar 82Medium Earth Orbit19 Jan, 2023
Navstar 81Medium Earth Orbit17 Jun, 2021
Navstar 78Medium Earth Orbit22 Aug, 2019
Navstar 77Medium Earth Orbit23 Dec, 2018
Navstar 76Medium Earth Orbit05 Feb, 2016
Navstar 75Medium Earth Orbit31 Oct, 2015
Navstar 74Medium Earth Orbit15 Jul, 2015
Navstar 73Medium Earth Orbit25 Mar, 2015
Navstar 72Medium Earth Orbit29 Oct, 2014
Navstar 71Medium Earth Orbit02 Aug, 2014

irnss

Satellite NameOrbit Date
NVS-01Geostationary Orbit (GEO)29 May, 2023
IRNSS-1IInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)12 Apr, 2018
IRNSS-1HSub Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (Sub-GTO)31 Aug, 2017
IRNSS-1GGeostationary Orbit (GEO)28 Apr, 2016
IRNSS-1FGeostationary Orbit (GEO)10 Mar, 2016
IRNSS-1EGeosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)20 Jan, 2016
IRNSS-1DInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)28 Mar, 2015
IRNSS-1CGeostationary Orbit (GEO)16 Oct, 2014
IRNSS-1BInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)04 Apr, 2014
IRNSS-1AInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)01 Jul, 2013