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Development and Characterization of a Small Spacecraft Electro-Optic Scanner for Free-Space Laser CommunicationsEmergent data-intensive missions coupled with dramatic reductions in spacecraft size plus an increasing number of space-based missions necessitates new high performance, compact and low cost communications technology. Free space optical communications offer advantages including orders of magnitude increase for data rate performance, increased security, immunity to jamming and lack of frequency allocation requirements when compared with conventional radio frequency (RF) means. The spatial coherence and low divergence associated with the optical frequencies of laser communications lends themselves to superior performance, but this increased directionality also creates one of the primary technical challenges in establishing a laser communications link by repeatedly and reliably pointing the beam onto the receive aperture. Several solutions have emerged from wide angle (slow) mechanical articulation systems, fine (fast) steering mirrors and rotating prisms, inertial compensation gyros and vibration isolation cancellation systems, but each requires moving components and imparts a measured amount of burden on the host platform. The complexity, cost and size of current mechanically scanned solutions limits their platform applicability, and restricts the feasibility of deploying optical communications payloads on very compact spacecraft employing critical systems. A high speed, wide angle, non-mechanical solution is therefore desirable. The purpose of this work is to share the development, testing, and demonstration of a breadboard prototype electro-optic (EO) scanned laser-communication link (see Figure 1). This demonstration is a step toward realizing ultra-low Size, Weight and Power (SWaP) SmallSat/MicroSat EO non-mechanical laser beam steering modules for high bandwidth ( greater than Gbps) free-space data links operating in the 1550 nm wavelength bands. The elimination of all moving parts will dramatically reduce SWaP and cost, increase component lifetime and reliability, and simplify the system design of laser communication modules. This paper describes the target mission architectures and requirements (few cubic centimeters of volume, 10's of grams of weight with milliwatts of power) and design of the beam steering module. Laboratory metrology is used to determine the component performance including horizontal and vertical resolution (20urad) as a function of control voltage (see Figure 2), transition time (0.1-1ms), pointing repeatability and optic insertion loss. A test bed system demonstration, including a full laser communications link, is conducted. The capabilities of this new EO beam steerer provide an opportunity to dramatically improve space communications through increased utilization of laser technology on smaller platforms than were previously attainable.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Davis, Scott
(Vescent Photonics, Inc. Denver, CO, United States)
Lichter, Michael
(NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH United States)
Raible, Daniel
(NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH, United States)
Date Acquired
February 8, 2017
Publication Date
October 17, 2016
Subject Category
Space Communications, Spacecraft Communications, Command And Tracking
Lasers And Masers
Report/Patent Number
Meeting Information
AIAA International Communications Satellite Systems Conference (ICSSC)(Cleveland, OH)
Funding Number(s)
WBS: WBS 405034.
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.
Laser Optical Communications
Laser Optical Communications
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