The European Data Relay System (EDRS) began servicing Europe’s Earth-observing Copernicus programme on 22nd November, transferring observations in quasi-real time using cutting-edge laser technology.
The EDRS–SpaceDataHighway will now begin providing a commercial service to the European Commission’s Copernicus Sentinel satellites. EDRS is a public–private partnership between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Airbus Defence and Space, with ESA supporting the initial technology development and the company providing the commercial service. The European Commission is EDRS’s anchor customer through its Sentinel-1 and -2 missions.
EDRS accelerates the transmission of data from low-orbiting satellites like the Sentinels to the end user on the ground. It does so by locking onto the satellites with a laser beam as they pass below, and immediately relaying the information to European ground stations via a high-speed radio beam.
Low-orbiting satellites must usually wait until they travel within view of a ground station to downlink the data they have gathered, resulting in a delay of up to 90 minutes per 100-minute orbit. This is because most ground stations that serve low-orbiting satellites are located in the polar regions, although the Sentinels have additional stations in Italy and Spain.
EDRS will help to solve this problem. As the world’s first optical satellite communication network in geostationary orbit, it will relay unprecedented amounts of potentially life-saving data per day in near-real time.
The EDRS-A first node will now start collecting data from Sentinel-1A. The two satellites will link via laser beam up to 15 times per day. The EDRS-C second node will be launched in 2017 to help transfer the massive amounts of data being sent back and forth over Europe. Unlike EDRS-A, which is hosted on a Eutelsat commercial satellite, EDRS-C is a dedicated satellite built specifically for the system.
Both nodes carry a TESAT payload with a laser intersatellite terminal developed under funding by the DLR German Aerospace Center. EDRS-A also carries a high-speed Ka-band intersatellite payload to relay data to and from the International Space Station.
The first two satellites are planned to be complemented by the EDRS-D third node over Asia in 2020. EDRS-D is part of a programme called GlobeNet, which will extend the EDRS quasi-realtime data relay coverage from Europe to worldwide.
GlobeNet will also link to both manned and remotely piloted aircraft, providing two-way communications that can be used for command, control and the rapid download of sensor data, complementing those obtained from Earth observation satellites. The net result will be that Earth observation data can be received anywhere on Earth in near-real time, greatly increasing its value for a host of time-critical applications such as disaster and emergency response.