US-based Aerospace has demonstrated a new laser communication system using two low-Earth-orbiting optical communications and sensor demonstration (OCSD) CubeSats named AeroCube-7B and Aerocube-7C.

During the demonstration, the CubeSats transmitted data at a rate of 100mbps, which is 50 times higher than the typical communication systems carried out by satellites of this size.

The OCSD mission is funded and managed by Nasa’s Space Technology Mission Directorate Small Spacecraft Technology programme, while Aerospace designed and built the OCSD spacecraft.

Representing the first of its kind mission performed by small satellites, including CubeSats, the demonstration involved the use of free-space laser communication systems that are smaller, lighter and offer higher data rates and more security compared to the current radio frequency systems.

“Space-to-ground optical communications from a free-flying CubeSat has never been done before, and we’re excited to be involved in this demonstration.”

Aerospace OCSD optical communications lead Todd Rose said: “Space-to-ground optical communications from a free-flying CubeSat has never been done before, and we’re excited to be involved in this demonstration.”

According to Aerospace, each of the OCSD satellite’s laser is hard-mounted to allow the entire spacecraft to rotate while pointing the laser.

This attitude control system eliminated the use of beam steering mirrors and harnessed a highly accurate control system to point the satellite while downloading data.

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The system includes tiny star trackers and is designed to allow the spacecraft to point to an accuracy of 0.025°.

Aerospace also conducted a proximity manoeuvre to bring the OCSD satellites within 20ft of distance before the demonstration.

The 1.5 unit OCSD pair used onboard GPS receivers determined the gap between them, as well as a new water-based propulsion system designed by Aerospace to control their movement.

They were launched last November as secondary payloads on a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and then were deployed in December from the CYGNUS resupply capsule that carried them to the ISS.