Space Optical Communications Using Laser Beams
This invention provides a new method for optical data transmissions from satellites using laser arrays for laser beam pointing. The system is simple, static, compact, and provides accurate pointing, acquisition, and tracking (PAT). It combines a lens system and a vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser VCSEL)/Photodetector Array, both mature technologies, in a novel way for PAT. It can improve the PAT system's size, weight, and power (SWaP) in comparison to current systems. Preliminary analysis indicates that this system is applicable to transmissions between satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO) and ground terminals. Computer simulations using this design have been made for the application of this innovation to a CubeSat in LEO. The computer simulations included modeling the laser source and diffraction effects due to wave optics. The pointing used a diffraction limited lens system and a VCSEL array. These capabilities make it possible to model laser beam propagation over long space communication distances. Laser beam pointing is very challenging for LEO, including science missions. Current architectures use dynamical systems, (i.e., moving parts, e.g., fast-steering mirrors (FSM), and/or gimbals) to turn the laser to point to the ground terminal, and some use vibration isolation platforms as well. This static system has the potential to replace the current dynamic systems and vibration isolation platforms, dependent on studies for the particular application. For these electro-optical systems, reaction times to pointing changes and vibrations are on the nanosecond time scale, much faster than those for mechanical systems. For LEO terminals, slew rates are not a concern with this new system.
Fine-pointing Optical Communication System Using Laser Arrays
A new method is described for optical data transmissions from satellites using laser arrays for fine pointing of laser beams that use body pointing. It combines a small lens system and a VCSEL/Photodetector Array in a novel way to provide a fine pointing capability for laser beams that are pointed by body pointing of a CubeSat. As Fig. 1 shows, an incoming laser beam (green or blue, with rightward arrows), transmitted from a ground terminal, enters the lens system, which directs it to an element of the pixel array (gray rectangle). Each element, or pixel, consists of a VCSEL component/photodetector pair. The photodetector detects the incoming beam, and the VCSEL component returns a modulated beam to the lens system (green or blue, with leftward arrows), which sends it to the ground terminal. As the incoming beam changes direction, e.g., from the blue to the green incoming direction, this change is detected by the adjacent photodetector, and the laser paired with that photodetector is turned on to keep the outgoing laser beam on target. The laser beams overlap so that the returning beam continues to point at the ground terminal. The VCSEL component may consist of a single VCSEL or a cluster of VCSELs. Figure 2 shows the propagation of two overlapping laser beams. The system can very accurately point finely focused diffraction-limited laser beams. Also, simultaneous optical multiple access (OMA) is possible from different transceivers within the area covered by the laser array. For this electro-optical system, reaction times to pointing changes and vibrations are on the nanosecond time scale, much faster than mechanical fine pointing systems.
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