Sony launches space laser communications business

TAMPA, Fla. – Sony has formed a company to develop laser communications devices for small satellites, based on optical disc technology it has developed for CD players and other devices.

The Japanese conglomerate announced on June 2 that it has formed Sony Space Communications (SSC) in San Mateo, California, to help companies avoid running out of radio waves as the number of satellites in low-Earth orbit increases (LEO) increases sharply.

SSC plans to develop, build and deliver equipment that would allow small satellites to use laser beams instead of radio frequencies to communicate with ground stations — and each other for real-time connectivity.

The volume of data used in LEO is increasing every year, but the amount of radio waves is limited, SSC President Kyohei Iwamoto said in a statement.

“In addition, the need for radio wave spectrum licenses and the demand for lower power consumption of communication equipment required by smaller satellites such as microsatellites are also issues that need to be addressed,” he said.

Traditional radio communications require larger satellite antennas and more power than optical networks, Sony says, making it “physically difficult” to achieve high speeds on small satellites.

Sony said it has researched and developed optical communications systems small enough to house microsatellites, which NASA defines as spacecraft between 10 and 100 kilograms.

The company didn’t say when its devices might be available or if there are customers for the technology.

SSC plans to use its optical disc technology to develop satellite communications devices that are ultra-compact, lightweight, mass-producible, and capable of withstanding the harsh conditions of space.

In 2020, Sony said an optical communications device it developed in collaboration with Japan’s space agency was installed on Kibo, Japan’s experimental module on the International Space Station.

According to Sony, SOLISS, or Small Optical Link for International Space Station, has established a two-way laser communications link with a space optical communications ground station in Japan and has successfully transmitted high-resolution image data.

Sony also said it successfully conducted a data file transmission experiment earlier this year, which it says provides “the technological foundation” for Internet services through LEO optical communications.

Mynaric, CACI, test and other companies are also expanding optical space business as laser communications technology matures.

The Japanese startup Warpspace is Development of an intersatellite laser communication systemand is also establishing a US presence as it seeks to partner with American companies and compete for government and military contracts.

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