A Japanese satellite carrying laser relay technology launched into space on a mission to transfer data at high speeds from military and civilian Earth observation spacecraft.
The satellite payload, called Laser Utilizing Communication System or LUCAS for short, will send data from satellites in low Earth orbit using laser technology, according to a machine-translated version of the JAXA mission page in Japanese.
Rocket builder and launch provider Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) announced the successful launch on Twitter, adding the satellite had separated from the upper stage of the rocket. From there, the satellite will make its way to geostationary orbit for a 10-year mission. “It was confirmed that the rocket flew as planned,” MHI said in a machine translated statement from Japanese.
LUCAS will fly to geostationary orbit, which allows it to rotate at the same rate as the Earth at roughly 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above the equator. It will have a continuous view over the Asia-Pacific area.
This new satellite replaces Kodama, or the Data Relay Test Satellite (DRTS), which was launched in 2002 and remained in service for 15 years before being decommissioned in August 2017. While Kodama was designed to provide high-speed communications through conventional S-band and Ka-band communications, its replacement also adds optical communications systems to further increase its throughput.
From its high altitude, LUCAS will connect with satellites in low Earth orbit using a near-infrared laser beam. The laser technology on LUCAS sends information at 1.8 gigabytes per second, which is seven times faster than the current standard of sending information by radio waves, JAXA said.
Using G&H’s high-reliability undersea terrestrial communications capabilities as the starting point, the LUCAS system takes the Company’s fibre optic systems and photonic technologies into space. Two types of laser communication systems have been developed: one for geostationary satellites and one for earth observation satellites deployed on the low Earth orbit (LEO).
According to Space flight now, this launch was not exceptionally broadcast, probably due to unusual satellite technology. It is also worth noting that the Asian country also did not disclose the exact position of Lucas’ operation in geostationary orbit.
The relay satellite will be positioned in geostationary orbit, high over the equator. Low-orbiting satellites, such as IGS and the civilian Advanced Land Observation Satellite (ALOS) missions, will be able to communicate with it for at least half of each orbit, when the relay is not hidden from them behind the Earth. This allows data to be returned more quickly and consistently than waiting for the spacecraft to make short passes over ground stations and removes the need to maintain many stations worldwide for this purpose.
JAXA has also designed the next-generation ALOS-3 and -4 Earth science and observation satellites to leverage the bandwidth provided by LUCAS. The first of these satellites is expected to launch as early as 2021.