BEACON – Photonics for Telecom Satellites

Dr. Efstratios Kehayas, G&H Systems Technology Group

Constelex Technology Enablers, the recent acquisition by Gooch & Housego and now part of the Systems Technology Group, coordinates BEACON, an EU R&D project in the FP7 program. The project focuses on flexible photonic payload systems within next-generation high-capacity telecommunication satellites.

Prototype fiber amplifiers developed by G&H / Constelex


The evolution of terrestrial communications has enabled new bandwidth hungry multimedia applications through the deployment of new generation of 100Gb/s and 500Gb/s coherent optical networks. Satellite communications are now required to provide higher capacity and increased flexibility to remain competitive and deliver direct broadcast, broadband multimedia and broadband internet access.

First multi-beam – multi-gigabit telecommunication satellites have made their debut demonstrating a total capacity approaching 100Gbit/s. In order to provide such impressive total throughputs, these satellites require more than 10kWatt of power to operate and weigh several tonnes during launch. Operators today are demanding increasing bandwidth with expected satellite payload capacities approaching 1Tbit/sec.

Responding to these increasing capacity requirements, satellite manufacturers are now investing in new technology solutions that would be scalable in terms of size, weight and power consumption.

A promising solution currently being investigated by major satellite vendors worldwide is the introduction of photonics into new generation of flexible payloads. High-capacity data signals are transmitted, processed and switched using light, through lightweight, compact and high-performance photonic systems without Electro-Magnetic Interference (EMI). The challenge ahead is the design of new flexible photonic payload architectures and the development of the corresponding key enabling technologies that would support the required functionalities within such new generation of satellites.

BEACON is an application-driven, technology-intensive project, developing key enabling technologies in order to achieve the sustained entry of photonics into satellites with the ultimate aim of reducing mass, volume and power consumption of satellite systems and at the same time to achieve the necessary capacity increase and cost reduction.

Addressing cost, performance and volume, BEACON invests in three photonic technologies used in terrestrial telecommunications, i.e. electro-optics, fiber-optics and silicon photonics, and combines them to deliver a compact optical beam-forming technology. Within the frames of the project, components applicable to space will be designed and developed, including:

  • Linear GaAs Mach-Zehnder modulators
  • Scalable multi-core radiation-hard Erbium-doped optical fiber amplifiers
  • Miniaturized integrated beam-formers based on CMOS-compatible silicon photonic integrated circuits

BEACON will integrate photonic components in arrays and will assemble microwave photonic and beam-forming sub-systems to demonstrate that the technology can scale to high capacities with considerable savings in size/power against current systems. Component space assessment will guide the technology towards space qualified systems.

The consortium includes Airbus Defence and Space (UK), IHP GmbH (DE), Finisar (UK), InPhotech (PL) and IT Aveiro (PT).

Please contact Dr. Kehayas for further information on G&H space amplifiers; please click here to find out more on G&H Space Photonics in general  and here for more on BEACON.