In the first workshop of the study Optical Communications for SmallSats – Enabling the Next Era in Space Science, we reviewed the past achievements at NASA, the European Space Agency, and Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communication Technology to demonstrate the functionality of laser communication instruments on satellites. We studied several cubesat science missions that have or will consider optical communication as their telecom. solution, as well as current commercial ventures that would benefit from increased data rate capability. We then focused on developing three lasercomm. subsystems designed for different ranges and applications – namely near-Earth and deep space to ground connections, as well as crosslinks on small satellites. We also analyzed the outstanding technical, organizational, and financial hurdles that must be addressed to enable this technology to come into widespread use.
In this second workshop, we will dive deeper into the current challenges, in order to craft recommendations for further investment from our sponsors and key stakeholders. We will seek to define a roadmap whereby cost savings can be achieved in future programs through standardization, collaborative efforts, and leveraging of existing unused ground infrastructure. We will continue to develop our subsystem designs in the three different regimes, building up a depiction of the high volume operational scenarios that would result from the adoption of optical communication on a variety of cubesats and smallsat spacecraft. Our findings, captured in the final report, will inform and guide strategic decisions in the implementation and maturation of optical communication subsystems that will enhance the quality of scientific observation from space, and reduce the mass and power utilization required for communication.