China has launched a cubesat from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the northwest Gobi Desert that will look at the feasibility of laser-based inflight connectivity.
As well as the 650-kilogram (1,430 pound) China-France Oceanography Satellite (CFOSAT) the mission also launched seven smaller payloads: Xiaoxiang-1, Zhaojin-1, Tiange-1, Tianfuguoxing-1, Changshagaoxin, Hongyan-1 and CubeBel-1.
Xiaoxiang-1 is a small satellite demonstration mission for the Chinese company LaserFleet, which plans to develop a 288-strong small laser communication satellite constellation in low-Earth orbit (LEO) to provide broadband internet access and inflight connectivity.
According to LaserFleet’s website, its initial objective is to demonstrate within two years, a “higher effective data rate at a lower cost than the best-in-class Ku/Ka/V LEO satellite solution”.
It says the system must provide reliable 1Gbps communication rates to aircraft at altitude using laser-based IFC.
Laserfleet says “coherent optical transmission technology has advantages of 10 Gigabit communication speed and high receiving sensitivity”.
Europe and the United States are also undertaking similar research. Currently ESA’s European Data Relay Satellite System (EDRS) has achieved 1.8 Gbps with in-orbit applications and the United States has verified a 2.88 Gbps link.
EDRS began servicing Europe’s Earth observing Copernicus programme in November 2016, transferring observations in quasi-real time using laser technology.
It accelerates the transmission of data from low-orbiting satellites to the end user on the ground by locking onto the satellites with a laser beam as they pass below, and immediately relaying the information to European ground stations via a radio beam.
Laserfleet company’s business objective is to provide a “Best Value LEO SATCOM solution”. It says this must demonstrate superior cost/performance relative to the competition in the year 2020.
In December 2017 LaserFleet Space Technologies Co Ltd secured tens of millions of yuan in angel financing led by CASH Capital, the Chinese Academy of Science Holdings Capital.