FSO Instruments builds on TNO’s groundbreaking technology

Recently, TNO reported the successful testing and commissioning of its compact laser satellite communication terminal. This establishes space flight heritage for TNO’s groundbreaking technology, which is also core to FSO Instruments; the company that brings this TNO technology to the market. “This milestone provides a strong foundation for our ambition to provide our customers with reliable and efficient lightweight, high-performing laser satellite communication technology in series production,” FSO Instruments’ Gus van der Feltz, Senior Business Developer, comments.

In addition to the well-known radio-frequency communication, laser technology is emerging for communication in space. This technology allows for fast, secure connections between ground stations, satellites, aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles. Laser satellite communication works by pointing laser beams over large distances, which requires complex technology, optomechatronics, to create and maintain the connection. TNO, the Netherlands organization for applied scientific research, developed this groundbreaking technology and integrated it in the compact CubeCAT laser terminal with support from a range of partners, including AAC Clyde Space. 

Successful communication link

The Norwegian NORSAT-TD spacecraft, on which CubeCAT has been installed, was launched in April 2023. TNO has now demonstrated the proper functioning of the system after extensive testing and commissioning. A link has been set-up successfully between the terminal on the satellite and the TNO optical ground station in The Hague, the Netherlands. This success has proven that TNO’s laser satellite communication technology works under spaceflight conditions.

Suitable for small satellites

Will Crowcombe, Managing Director at FSO Instruments, welcomes the extraordinary accomplishment, and congratulates TNO on their milestone in the roadmap toward commercial laser satellite communication. “This a fantastic demonstration of a compact laser satellite communication terminal that is as small as 10 x 10 x 10 centimeters and weighs only one kilogram. At FSO Instruments, we’re commercializing this technology with the help of our mother companies VDL Groep and Demcon, who are bringing their vast capabilities and experience in developing and building high-tech production equipment to the commercial space industry. We’re enabling fast optical satellite communication at Gbps rate using terminals that are suitable for small satellites.”

FSO Instruments space flight heritage

The technology embedded in the CubeCAT is the same core technology that FSO Instruments uses to build its optical heads for laser satellite communication. Van der Feltz: “Therefore, the success of CubeCAT also establishes space flight heritage for FSO Instruments’ technology. Our team, many of whom worked on the CubeCAT development at TNO, are now working in close cooperation with our partner AAC Hyperion, part of AAC Clyde Space AB, to validate space qualification and manufacturability for commercial versions of CubeCAT. Our aim is to ensure that a lightweight, high-performing laser satellite communication terminal can be produced reliably and efficiently in series.”

Global communication networks in space

FSO Instruments is industrializing laser satellite communication technology by making it easier and cheaper to produce while adding functionality. An example of that is a coarse pointing alignment system allowing for more freedom in the connections that can be made, which enables the establishment of flexible optical communication networks between satellites. FSO is working with partners in and around The Netherlands to set up the supply chain needed to become a leading provider of optical heads for laser satellite communication. That fits in with the Dutch ambition to claim the position of world market leader for series production of high-quality instruments for this application. Multiple customers are already working with FSO Instruments to benefit from this potential.