JAXA ISS Module Establishes Optical Link with Ground Station


On April 23rd 2020, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) published a press release detailing the success of their Small Optical Link for International Space Station (SOLISS) mission. The link module first was installed on the Japanese Experiment Module of the ISS in 2019, with weekly testing occurring for roughly 6 months to calibrate the system. After successfully establishing a connection on March 5th, 2020, the ground station was receiving HD images by March 11th.

The mission’s success is the result of a joint research effort between JAXA and Sony Corporation that began in 2016. Sony has been utilizing optical data transfer at distances of less than 1mm in optical disks for years, but now they are applying what they have learned to send data over much greater distances. SOLISS uses the Ethernet Standard to communicate with its designated optical ground station.

The release cites the optical system’s ability to scale bandwidth as its benefit over commonplace radio alternatives. However, there are many security-related concerns that this technology could address. Optical protocols are more secure against eavesdropping and spoofing than traditional radio and could pave the way forward for secure communications–both on the ground and in orbit.

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