The idea of global, low earth orbit satellite constellations delivering high data rate free-space communication from and to any point in the world is reaching maturity. Projects by SpaceX, OneWeb, Facebook and Google are only a few examples of many initiatives which have recently been publicised. Key to the success of such deployments is the availability of compact, radiation tolerant electro-optic transceivers in the satellite payload which enable error free transfer of data with minimum impact on weight, volume and power dissipation.
Silicon Photonics is an emerging technology finding application in data- and telecom systems that promises to radically disrupt what is possible today with discrete component optical link solutions. The ability to pattern light-manipulating circuits directly on silicon substrates brings about the possibility to integrate numerous network functions onto a single die that can then be tightly coupled to processing electronics. Such higher levels of integration with the optical interface directly attached to the processing electronics can dramatically reduce the overall system power consumption, and with power consumption quickly becoming the bottleneck for increased system performance, Silicon Photonics is a promising technology to remove this limitation.
Applying any new technology to an atypical environment, like that inside a High Energy Physics experiment or a satellite payload, requires that the technology be qualified for that environment. There are strong synergies between these two environments and thus technology developments and qualification carried out for one can easily be adapted to the other. The project partners have been collaborating on the concept of deploying Silicon Photonics technology in future highly-integrated, low power High Energy Physics detector systems. We see the ATTRACT initiative as an opportunity to share this technology development with the European aerospace industry that is looking for low-mass, low-power, robust, high-speed optical communications solutions to enable future generations of high-performance satellite payloads for communications constellations. The seed money provided by the first ATTRACT phase will allow us to determine the feasibility of our 100 Gb/s Silicon Photonics transceiver concept. Should the project be funded for a second phase, this would allow the production of prototypes for evaluation by potential future partners from the Aerospace industry.