Space community gets first look at hybrid optical/RF terminal

Thursday, 25 May, 2023

Space community gets first look at hybrid optical/RF terminal

At the 15th Australian Space Forum, Australian space research centre SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) unveiled a new prototype terminal that aims to create more stable and secured military satellite communications.

The Compact Hybrid Optical-RF User Segment (CHORUS) prototype terminal has been entirely developed in Australia by the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG), along with industry and academic partners EOS Space Systems and EM Solutions, Lyrebird Antenna Research, Shoal Group, Australian National University and University of South Australia, following three years of research.

Satellite optical communications links offer significantly higher data rates and a lower interception probability than standard civilian and military radio frequency (RF) satellite communications, which are vulnerable to electronic warfare, such as jamming, geo-location and interception.

Through its hybrid technology, CHORUS aims to address the various limitations of satellite-based optical communications technology and open viable commercialisation pathways for new SATCOM capabilities.

The new CHORUS Terminal is a hybrid optical/RF system, integrating an RF antenna and an optical telescope into a system called the AntennaScope. According to SmartSat, this will ensure users have reliable communications all the time and much higher data rates when optical communication is possible.

Image caption: CHORUS at demonstration. Image supplied by SmartSat.

A recent VIP demonstration day at the Department of Defence Edinburgh base showcased the successful completion of testing and marked the practical conclusion of the two phases of the SmartSat CRC co-funded project. The unveiling of the CHORUS Terminal at the Australian Space Forum was the first opportunity for the space community to see the prototype and discuss its capabilities and potential commercial pathways with members of the R&D project team.

The project drew on impressive efforts by DSTG to support testing at their LASER range, including designing and building a ‘pseudo-satellite’ to prove the hybrid RF/Optical aperture worked as designed. The availability of an EM Solutions-provided Cobra maritime SATCOM terminal allowed the project to manufacture the AntennaScope — possibly the world’s first coaxial hybrid RF-Optical aperture.

“CHORUS has the potential to position Australia as a leader in developing and delivering an entirely new class of military satellite communications service for the Australian Defence Force and its allies,” said Professor Andy Koronios, CEO, SmartSat CRC. “This includes developing optical communications to provide higher bandwidth, lower observability and more secure communications than current RF-only technologies for tactical communications between maritime, aircraft and land vehicles.

“We believe this technology has additional commercial applications, such as commercial shipping and cruise liners. CHORUS is a testament that Australia can achieve world-first outcomes in advanced research, development and manufacturing,” Koronios concluded.

Top image caption: The SATCOM terminal in situ on the Laser Range at DSTG’s headquarters. Image supplied by SmartSat.

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