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Thales Alenia Space and partners awarded two contracts for laser-communication related to ESA’s HydRON

Thales Alenia Space recently kicked-off two projects related to HydRON, being funded by the European Space Agency (ESA). The two contracts will allow Thales Alenia Space, and its partners, to develop its own vision demonstrating the potential of laser-based satellite communication.

The past years have seen a quick expansion of communications infrastructures fuelled by the unprecedented rise in the volume of data streams that circle the globe. This demand is also felt in the aerospace sector, where interconnection and integrative network concepts across orbits and across the globe are key to fulfil the demands of the future.
Laser-based satellite communication has the potential to bring terrestrial network functionalities to satellite networks in order to help bridge this digital gap for a variety of applications (e.g. virtual private networks, edge computing, 5G/6G services, internet to/from space and airborne assets). This is beyond current satellite capabilities, and ESA’s  HydRON (High Throughput Optical Network) vision seeks to develop these for European and Canadian industries.
The vision is part of ESA’s ARTES Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) 4.0 Strategic Programme Line on “Optical & Quantum Communications” - ScyLight programme. It is an Optical Transport Network concept combining extremely high throughput Optical Ground-Space Links, high throughput Optical Inter-Satellite Links and in-orbit routing/switching capabilities. The resulting space Optical Transport Network aims at seamless inter-operability with existing high-capacity terrestrial networks – the  “internet beyond the cloud(s)”.
In the frame of the two contracts, Thales Alenia Space led a consortium, including GMV, Telespazio, CGI, CRAT, Officina Stellare, DLR-IKN, Kepler Communications, Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna and Open Fiber. This consortium will:
•    study the implementation of a HydRON Demonstration System (Phase A/B1)
•    develop a System Simulator Testbed
The Telecommunications and Integrated Applications Directorate (TIA) of ESA is funding both.
The objective of the first contract (HydRON Demonstration System Phase A/B1)  is to push the development and validation of the HydRON technology integrated into terrestrial networks at terabit-per-second capacity. It will demonstrate:

•    the end-to-end system, including critical key technologies and a minimum viable service
•    networking capabilities, including seamless inter-operability with high-capacity terrestrial networks
•    operational concept, reflecting an expandable HydRON concept

The Phase A/B1 study will last 18 months to propose an implementation concept to  demonstrate the HydRON vision, tentatively composed of two space-based laser communication payloads in LEO and GEO, interconnecting with each other, several optical ground stations and terrestrial fibre optics networks. Their completion will pave the way for a subsequent implementation phase (Phase B2/C/D/E1, launch in 2026), subject to ESA member states decision at ESA’s next Council Meeting at ministerial level in November 2022.
The objective of the second contract is to develop a HydRON System Simulator Testbed to:

•    consolidate HydRON vision, system functionalities & end-to-end system architecture
•    support HydRON Demonstration System trade-offs and baseline selection
•   verify optical communications network solutions and technologies in a representative end-to-end network involving interfaces with high-capacity terrestrial networks
evaluate performance of optical satellite networks in scenarios with many degrees of freedom and under a large number of stochastic environment variables