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Beam Divergence Shaping Mechanism in

Laser Intersatellite Crosslink System

K.H. Heng, Y. He, N. Liu, W. D. Zhong and T. H. Cheng
School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering
Nanyang Technological University
Republic of Singapore

Abstract—Laser intersatellite crosslink is a promising choice Laser Communications Demonstration (MLCD) Project aims
for intersatellite communications due to the high data rate that to demonstrate high data rate optical communications from
can be achieved with the advantages of light weight, smaller size Mars orbit to several ground stations through Mars Telecom
and lower power consumption. The establishment of the line of Orbiter, to be launched in 2009 [6].
sight (LOS) between the satellites can be a complex task due to
the narrow laser beam to be used over long distances between However, most of these efforts are focused on long distance
satellite platforms. We examine the effects of varying short range satellite communications, instead of communications for
separation distances between two low earth orbit (LEO) satellites formation flying cluster. An important requirement of small
in a satellite formation flying cluster with respect to the link satellites cluster is the ability to establish communications
budget and beam divergence. Then, we propose a beam among the satellites with the positions of each satellite being
divergence shaping mechanism to tackle the varying distance monitored continuously during PAT [7]. These satellites will
problem. adopt similar orbital paths during their LEO flights and the
separation distance between two satellites within the cluster
Keywords—optical intersatellite communications, pointing, will be between the range of 1.5km to 10km at different points
acquisition and tracking (PAT), beam divergence along their orbital paths. The varying short-range separation
I. INTRODUCTION distance poses unique challenge in the PAT design of the Laser
Intersatellite Crosslink System (LICS), differentiating itself
Demand for intersatellite communication systems has been from other researches, which are usually based on long distance
rising for military and commercial applications such as crosslink in the order of thousands of km. In this paper, the
surveillance, weather forecasting and space exploration in the problem will be discussed and addressed through the evaluation
recent years [1]. High data rate transfer is essential for such of the effects of the varying separation distance. We propose a
applications and when coupled by the requirement for beam divergence shaping mechanism to tackle the varying
lightweight and compact communication system to reduce distance problem.
launch costs, optical communications is much preferred to RF
communications for intersatellite crosslinks [1]. Optical II. POINTING, ACQUISITION & TRACKING PRINCIPLE
intersatellite communications takes advantage of laser beam’s To communicate between two satellites, a LOS link must
small divergence to generate high energy density footprint first be established with both satellites’ apertures pointing
based on low-power transmitter and smaller apertures [2]. The towards each other. With initial position information
narrow beam offers lesser interference and more secured knowledge of partner satellite [8][9], both satellites’ LICS
operations [2]. However, the narrow beam also creates modules cast a beacon signal through wide optical beam
challenges in establishing the line of sight (LOS) between the towards the partner satellite [1]. As the knowledge of partner
two satellites in the area of pointing, acquisition and tracking satellite’s position is imprecise, a wide beam is necessary to
(PAT). capture partner satellite within the beam coverage. This is
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) had conducted illustrated in Fig. 1.
Galileo Optical Experiment (GOPEX), a deep space
communications experiment, successfully sending optical data
to deep space Galileo spacecraft over 6 million km in 1992 and
the European Space Agency demonstrated intersatellite
communications through the Semiconductor Laser Inter-
Satellite Link Experiment (SILEX) using low earth orbit (LEO)
satellite SPOT-4 and geostationary orbit (GEO) satellite
ARTEMIS in 2001 [3][4]. Japan Aerospace Exploration
Agency had also successfully established optical intersatellite
communications between ARTEMIS and their developed
Optical Inter-orbit Communications Engineering Test Satellite
(OICETS) in 2005 [5]. In a joint effort by NASA Goddard
Space Flight Center (GSFC), Massachusetts Institute of
Technology Lincoln Laboratory (MIT/LL) and JPL, the Mars Figure 1. Illustration of wide optical beacon beam.

1-4244-0983-7/07/$25.00 ©2007 IEEE ICICS 2007

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At the same time, both LICS modules are having their
receivers’ field-of-view (FOV) fixing onto a wide region
around the partner satellite due to the imprecise knowledge of
the partner satellite’s position to ensure capturing of beacon
signal from partner satellite [1].
The beacon signal will fall upon the partner satellite’s LICS
module’s aperture. The beacon signal is collected and sent to
the optical acquisition and tracking detector, which is a crucial
component of the LICS module to provide the capability of
determining direction of the incoming beacon signal [1]. Once
acquisition and tracking detector is able to derive position of
partner satellite based on beacon signal’s incoming direction, it
adjusts the aperture’s pointing direction to realign itself
towards the partner satellite [1]. Through this process, both Figure 3. Angular coverage at different separation distances.
satellites’ LICS modules have their apertures aligned along
LOS and they will switch to tracking mode, maintaining LOS. Fig. 4 shows the beam divergence required to cover 30m
Finally, communication data is sent via narrow beams, shown diameter of uncertainty area at the various separation distances
in Fig. 2, while the tracking mechanism ensures that the narrow between 1.5km and 10km.
beams travel along LOS. Beam Divergence (mrad)
Figure 2. Illustration of narrow optical communication beam. Separation Distance (km)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
This procedure is known as the PAT procedure. PAT
procedure is required prior to communications due to accuracy Figure 4. Beam divergence at different separation distances to cover
limitations of position knowledge of partner satellite. This leads uncertainty area of 30m diameter.
to the formation of uncertainty area which marks out the
boundary of partner satellite’s possible positions. With that, the With a wide range of beam divergence from 3mrad to
PAT process locates the satellite within its uncertainty area. 20mrad, the usage of a fixed beam divergence is not practical.
For example, assume that a beam with a fixed divergence of
III. VARYING SHORT-RANGE SEPARATION DISTANCE 20mrad is to be used. At 1.5km separation distance, the beam
will cover the entire uncertainty area adequately. However,
During orbital flights along their individual but similar
when the same divergence is applied at 10km separation
orbital paths, the separation distance between two satellites is
distance, only 2.25% of the beam coverage will fall upon the
anywhere between the range of 1.5km to 10km. When the two
3mrad uncertainty area. The remaining 97.75% of the beam
satellites are closer, the angular coverage of each other will
coverage is not utilised.
increase and continue to increase as the separation distance gets
shorter. Another effect of varying separation distance is the range
loss of signal strength [1]. Fig. 5 shows the range loss in dB at
Thus the varying separation distance has imposed an effect
the separation distances between 1.5km and 10km based on
on the transmit beam divergence. For one satellite to transmit a
transmission wavelength of 1550nm.
wide beacon beam to illuminate an uncertainty area of 30m
diameter, it has to transmit beam divergence of 20mrad at The effect of range loss further reinforces the impracticality
1.5km separation. At 10km separation, the beam divergence of using a fixed beam divergence. At 10km separation distance,
required is 3mrad and it can be seen in Fig. 3 that the angular more gain is required to meet the link budget but a fixed beam
coverage created by the 30m uncertainty area at 10km is divergence will not produce the additional gain. The link
significantly smaller than the one at 1.5km. Thus the same budget analysis in the next section will demonstrate the
uncertainty area will require different beam divergence sizes at required gain calculation.
different separation distances to illuminate it.

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Range Loss (dB) Transmit Gain Required (dB)
220 56
218 54
216 52
214 50
204 42

202 40
Separation Distance (km) Separation Distance (km)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Figure 5. Range loss at different separation distances based on 1550nm Figure 6. Transmit gain required at various separation distances.
wavelength transmission.
To determine the required transmit beam divergence to
The link budget analysis is presented here in Table I [2]. yield sufficient transmit gain, the gain produced by the range of
The analysis is based on a 30mW semiconductor laser diode beam divergence between 3mrad and 20mrad is examined and
transmitter and acquisition detector sensitivity of 1nW. At this shown in Fig. 7.
point in time, some losses cannot be determined and are
assumed to be 50%. Gain (dB)
Parameter Value Decibel , dB Comments
Transmission 58
30mW 14.77 (dBm) Nil
power On-Axis Gain
Transmit optics 54
50% -3.0 Assumption
efficiency 52
Transmit pointing
50% -3.0 Assumption 48
46 Edge Gain
6.76x10-21 -201.70 1.5km
Range loss to to to
1.52x10-22 -218.18 10km 42
40 Beam Divergence (mrad)
Receive optics
50% -3.0 Assumption
efficiency 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
Required signal 1nW -60.0 Assume 1nW for Figure 7. Transmit gain produced at various beam divergences.
power (dBm) PAT detector
In Fig. 7, at each beam divergence, there is a range of gain
System Margin 10.0 10.0 Nil produced rather than a single value. This is because of the
Gaussian distributed beam profile of the optical beam [1]. The
3.91x1014 145.93 Required divergence size is considered as the beam coverage from the
Required total
to to transmit & beam’s cross sectional on-axis point to the 1/e2 point, thus
gain for PAT
1.75x1016 162.43 receiver gain
giving a range of values from the on-axis gain to the edge gain
at the 1/e2 point, which is 13.6% or -8.68dB from the on-axis
The link margin is currently set to a high 10.0dB to gain.
compensate for any additional losses not foreseen at this stage. Ideally, the beam divergence should be adjusted to the
The link budget analysis determines the required total transmit minimum required size that will sufficiently cover the entire
and receiver gain to meet the margin. In this LICS module, a uncertainty area. This dynamic beam divergence arrangement
10cm aperture is chosen for the design, giving a receiver gain according to the separation distance will ensure that all beam
of up to 106.14dB. Eliminating the receiver gain from the total power will fall within the area of interest. However, this will
gain required, the transmit gain is required to be between also mean that the beam divergence is required to be adjusted
39.79dB and 56.29dB for the separation distance between across the entire range between 3mrad to 20mrad to
1.5km and 10km, as shown in Fig. 6. accommodate the 30m diameter uncertainty area at 1.5km to

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10km. Although this method is possible, it poses design Gain (dB)
difficulties and can be replaced by another method that can also 57 Required Gain
meet the link budget. 56
Instead of a huge range of beam divergence selection, only
a few divergence sizes will be employed by the LICS module.
53 (2.04,53.61)
The entire 3mrad to 20mrad uncertainty area range is split into Gain Profile of
different regions, each operating with a single beam divergence 52 10mrad Divergence
size. The beam divergence size to be used for a certain region 51
shall be examined and demonstrated. 50
Since at 1.5km separation distance, 20mrad beam is
required for 30m diameter uncertainty area, the first divergence 48
size to be used is 20mrad. In the 20mrad beam, due to the 47
variation of the beam gain profile within the divergence, the 46 Offset Angle from On-Axis (mrad)
gain at certain offset angle from the on-axis gain can
sufficiently meet the required transmit gain for uncertainty 0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5 3 3.5 4 4.5 5 5.5
areas at various separation distances, as shown in Fig. 8. Figure 9. Range of required gain satisfied by a 10mrad beam.

57 Gain (dB) Using the same analysis method, Fig. 9 shows the gain
56 profile of a 10mrad beam and the required gain at various
55 Required Gain uncertainty area sizes at various separation distances. It can be
54 observed that the 10mrad beam divergence can fulfil the link
53 budget up to 2.04mrad angle offset, which is 4.08mrad
51 uncertainty area at 7352.9m of separation distance. Thus the
50 10mrad beam can be utilized to illuminate uncertainty area of
49 4.08mrad to 10mrad (2.04mrad to 5mrad offset angle) from the
48 separation distance of 3km to 7.353km.
47 (4.07,47.59) Gain Profile of
46 20mrad Divergence Gain (dB)
45 61
43 60
42 59 Gain Profile of
41 5mrad Divergence
40 58
39 Offset Angle from On-Axis (mrad) 57
37 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 56
Figure 8. Range of required gain satisfied by a 20mrad beam.
55 Required
54 Gain
In Fig. 8, the gain profile of a 20mrad beam, presented by 53
the solid line, is shown with increasing offset angle from its on- 52
axis (zero offset), from 49.03dB gain at on-axis to 40.35dB at Offset Angle from On-Axis (mrad)
its 1/e2 point, which is also the edge gain point, 10mrad angle 0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5 3
offset from the on-axis. The dotted line in Fig. 8 shows the gain
required from 1.5mrad to 10mrad angle offset, which is Figure 10. Range of required gain satisfied by 5mrad beam
basically also the gain required for 3mrad to 20mrad
uncertainty area at various separation distances. In Fig. 10, it is shown that a 5mrad beam can provide
sufficient gain to illuminate from zero to 5mrad uncertainty
Within the beam profile, it can be seen that the 20mrad area (zero to 2.5mrad offset angle) at separation distances of
beam has produced sufficient gain across its beam profile to 6km to 10km. Thus the regions in which the 5mrad, 10mrad
fulfil the link budget up to 4.07mrad angle offset, which is also and 20mrad beams can be employed are designated and shown
8.14mrad uncertainty area at 3685.5m of separation distance. in Table II.
Beyond this separation distance, the 20mrad beam is unable to
produce sufficient gain to meet the link budget for the TABLE II. OVERVIEW OF BEAM D IVERGENCE SELECTION
increasingly angularly smaller and further uncertainty areas. As
30m Uncertainty Area
a result, the 20mrad beam can be employed to illuminate the Angular Coverage
Separation Beam Divergence
uncertainty area of 8.14mrad to 20mrad (4.07mrad to 10mrad Distance (m) (mrad)
offset angle) from the separation distance of 1.5km to 3.686km. 20.0 to 8.14 1500.0 to 3685.5 20.0
10.0 to 4.08 3000.0 to 7352.9 10.0
5.0 to 3.0 6000.0 to 10000.0 5.0

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VI. LICS MODULE’S DIVERGENCE SHAPING MECHANISM will create beams of different divergence sizes. At any time,
Fig. 11 shows one of our considered design configurations only one lens will be shifted into the transmit path and through
for the LICS module that is housed within the gimbal (coarse this method, the positioning and shifting of the lenses can be
pointing mechanism). calibrated to a precise degree and this mechanism is easier to
implement while fulfilling the link budget requirement.
However, this mechanism is likely to face space constraint due
to the additional area required to house the unused lenses and
lenses swapping operation is required to be performed quickly
to minimise the swapping duration.
In this paper, the PAT problem encountered due to varying
short-range separation distance between satellites is presented.
It mainly affects the beam divergence to cover the uncertainty
area and the amount of range loss. The link budget is analysed
to determine the amount of required transmit gain at various
separation distance and with that, it is shown that a fixed beam
divergence size for the entire range of separation distance will
not fulfil the link budget at longer separation distances. The
solution to this problem is to adopt a beam divergence shaping
mechanism that is simple in concept. We have analysed the
Figure 11. Illustration of a design configuration for LICS module. gain profile and required gain with different beam divergences.
The investigation demonstrates that by utilising three different
For the PAT subsystem of the LICS module, the main beam divergences at different regions of separation distances,
components are the CCD detector, the pointing mechanism and the link budget can be satisfied. The values of the beam
the beam divergence shaping mechanism. The CCD detector divergence sizes for different regions are shown in the paper.
acts as the acquisition and tracking detector and provides
positional information of the partner satellite by identifying the The uncertainty area of partner satellite in a practical
direction of incoming beacon signal. The controller steers the satellite cluster will be further examined to gather more reliable
aperture through its coarse and fine pointing mechanisms, and accurate values, from which the same solution principle
selects the desired beam divergence and transmits the beacon will be applied accordingly to solve the problem of varying
signal. The details of the LICS module design will not be short range separation distance.
discussed in this paper.
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will select the appropriate lens and shift it into the transmit path Galileo Spacecraft on Its Way to Jupiter,” Proceedings of SPIE, Vol.
of the optical beam to change the beam divergence to the 1866, Issue 1, p. 138-146, 1993
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Figure 12. Beam Divergence Shaping Mechanism.

This beam divergence shaping mechanism is illustrated in

Fig. 12, where different lenses placed along the transmit path

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