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Lasercom-on-chip for next generation, high-speed satellite constelation interconnectivity

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ORIONAS (Lasercom-on-chip for next generation, high-speed satellite constelation interconnectivity)

Reporting period: 2018-11-01 to 2019-10-31

Photonics have revolutionized the world of telecommunications. During the past decades fiber optic connections have infiltrated every part of the network; from short, few-meter connections within datacenters up to multi-km long-haul links. On a global scale, our continents are linked through fiber optic cables that are laid out on the bottom of the oceans; ~750.000 miles of fiber optic cable is installed today to form the sub-marine networks – this is ~3 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. Now photonic technology is ready to revolutionize again the telecoms world; this time it’s not through the land or the ocean but through a new communication network that will be installed in space.
The vision is to set-up a mega constellation network of satellites which will communicate through laser beams – just as fiber optic cables are doing in terrestrial networks - with the extra benefit of lower latency simply because light travels much faster in vacuum than in glass. Such network is expected to have a drastic impact on the provision of high-quality broadband internet in the coming future. Being a satellite network means that it should be accessible to the most isolated parts of the planet– typically known as Other 3 billion – and being ultra-fast means that it can provide low latency connectivity to already connected parts where “network response” is of prime concern – such as enterprise commercial networks. However, such a network will have an equally drastic impact on the number of satellites orbiting the Earth. The high volume of satellites required to provide a global coverage and at the same time the small physical size of each satellite impose stringent requirements on the cost, size, weight and power consumption (C-SWAP) of the “laser modems”; the systems that deliver the transmission and reception of the laser communication beams within the satellite optical network. Using conventional fiber optic technology will not “do the trick”. The current lasercom terminals are built with discrete transceiver and amplifier components and as such systems are bulk, complex and expensive. For a viable business plan, end-users are ready to embrace a technology switch that will hit the right C-SWAP targets, such technology should leverage the great strength of photonic integration. This is the merge of elements and functionalities on chip-scale circuits that can be fabricated within semiconductor foundries just as electronic circuits are fabricated today for any high-volume consumer-based application.
ORIONAS is a H2020-SPACE research project that aims to provide a photonic technology platform that will disrupt both the shape of lasercom modems as well as the way they are built and tested making a drastic impact on the system C-SWAP. ORIONAS invests in monolithic integration within European BICMOS and InP foundries to leverage cost-effective access to high performance technologies and squeeze the key transceiver and amplifier elements that constitute the laser-modems into integrated circuit areas of a few mm2. Leveraging electronic-photonic integration and use of commercial off the shelf components the project intends to demonstrate a cost-effective solution for lasercom modem devices and systems that will be 20 times faster and >10 times smaller than the current state-of-the-art flight-grade equipment.
During its first period, ORIONAS has achieved the following:
• Complete definition of application requirements, system analysis and module requirements considering the satellite constellation application as well as spin-out opportunities in coherent optical inter-satellite links, data relay links and high-capacity optical feeder links.
• Progress of the critical design of the laser modem devices including optical transceivers, high power amplifiers and low noise pre-amplifiers.
• Critical design of the 1st generation (Gen-1) transceiver electronic-photonic integrated circuits (EPIC).
• The Gen-1 transmitter EPIC integrates two 25 Gb/s channels and hosts >20 opto-electronic elements (excluding the BiCMOS electronic circuitry) in a chip area of 9.51 x 1.56 mm.
• The Gen-1 receiver EPIC integrates two 25 Gb/s channels and accommodates >20 opto-electronic elements (excluding the BiCMOS electronic circuitry) in a chip area of 3.04 x 1.73 mm.
• Fabrication launch of the Gen-1 silicon photonic transceiver EPICs in IHP SiGe BICMOS line through the SG25EPIC process.
• Critical design of the high-power semiconductor optical amplifier (HP-SOA) module. The module is expected to weigh 30 grams and is designed to host a 4mm long SOA which will deliver a saturated optical power of >1W.
• Critical design of the low-noise optical fiber amplifier module (LNOA). Through its novel design the LNOA uses low-cost COTS Erbium doped fiber and is expected to weigh ~100 grams and deliver >55 dB of small signal gain at a noise figure <5 dB.
ORIONAS has just completed the first year of its lifetime which was dedicated to circuit/module design and launching of the manufacturing phase. The next period will complete the fabrication and will perform the experimental activities which will facilitate the benchmark against the state-of-the-art. However, the design activities that have been completed provide an indication of the advancements that are expected by the ORIONAS photonic modules at least in terms of their mass, power and data rate capability. Concerning the transceiver circuits, design has shown that the Gen-1 devices will meet the power consumption target of <2W per channel which corresponds to an electrical power consumption per bit of <80mW/Gb/s. Significant mass savings are expected in the HP-SOA and LNOA amplifiers. The high power amplifier is expected to consume a footprint as low as 4.67 cm2 which corresponds to an optical power per unit are of 200mW/cm2; this is expected to be ~20 times better than state-of-the-art flight-grade high power amplifiers. Finally, the LNOA amplifier design demonstrates a credit-card size footprint; >80% savings in mass and unit area are expected when comparing the module with state-of-the-art flight-grade fiber amplifiers. Achieving these targets in practice means that at the end of its development route, ORIONAS will be capable to deliver a lasercom modem with unprecedent functional performance and mass/size savings as required by the future satellite mega-constellation laser communications.