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Optical PAyload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS)

opals

Why Optical Communication?
The scientific instruments in near-Earth and deep-space missions increasingly require higher communication rates to transmit their gathered data back to Earth or to support high-data-rate applications (e.g., high-definition video streams). Optical communications (also referred to as 'lasercomm') is an emerging technology wherein data is modulated onto laser beams, which offers the promise of much higher data rates than what is achievable with radio-frequency (RF) transmissions.

The OPALS Project:
OPALS will demonstrate optical communication by transferring a video from our payload on the International Space Station (ISS) to our ground receiver at JPL's Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory (OCTL) in Wrightwood, California. As the ISS travels across the sky, a laser beacon will be transmitted from the ground telescope to our payload and tracked. While maintaining lock on the uplink beacon using a closed loop control system and a two-axis gimbal, the OPALS flight system will downlink a modulated laser beam with a formatted video. Each demonstration lasts for approximately 100 seconds as the ISS payload and ground telescope maintain line of sight.


OPALS Mission Architecture
OPALS Mission Architecture



OPALS Concept of Operations
OPALS Concept of Operations


System Description:
1. Flight System:
The flight system is composed of three main elements:
1. Sealed Container: houses all of the commercial-of-the-shelf (COTS) avionics boards, the laser, and custom power board pressured at 1 atmosphere with air. Connected to optical gimbal transceiver via cable feedthroughs.
2. Optical gimbal transceiver: an optical head that contains an uplink camera and laser collimator for the downlink sits on a two-axis gimbal.
3. Flight Releasable Attachment Mechanism (FRAM): both the sealed container and Optical gimbal transceiver sit on the FRAM, which provides a standard mechanical and electrical interface to both the ISS and the launch vehicle.

OPALS Flight System

2. Ground System:
The OPALS ground system will be at the Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory (OCTL) at the JPL facilities on Table Mountain in Wrightwood, CA. It utilizes OCTL's 1-meter primary telescope aperture to receive the downlink signal and transmit the reference beacon. The received optical signal is acquired and focused onto a photodetector, which converts the optical signal to baseband electrical current. After necessary digitization, synchronization, error-correction and post-processing, the video file is displayed on a monitor. The OCTL telescope relies on orbital predictions built from ISS GPS state vectors to follow the ISS as it traverses its path across the sky.

Ground System

3. International Space Station:
OPALS instrument was mounted externally on the International Space Station (ISS) in a nadir position on an ExPrESS Logistics Carrier 1 (ELC-1) on May 7, 2014.


OPALS instrument installation on ISS ELC-1
OPALS instrument installation on ISS ELC-1 on May 7, 2014


Close up of installed OPALS instrument on ELC-1
Close up of installed OPALS instrument on ELC-1 on May 7, 2014


The OPALS instrument begin commissioning activities, onboard the ISS, on May 10, 2014.
Moonrise over the OPALS instrument during commissioning activities
Moonrise over the OPALS instrument during commissioning activities on May 14, 2014


OPALS instrument prior to a closed looping tracking of a ground beacon commissioning activity
OPALS instrument prior to a closed looping tracking of a ground beacon commissioning activity on May 25, 2014


International Space Station
OPALS instrument firing a laser



4. Launch Vehicle:
OPALS launched on an ISS resupply mission in the trunk of the SpaceX Falcon 9 Dragon capsule on April 18, 2014.

OPALS launched on an ISS resupply mission in the trunk of the SpaceX Falcon 9 Dragon capsule
OPALS instrument inside SpaceX's Dragon's trunk, after second stage launch vehicle separation, on April 18, 2014


5. OPALS Videos (Animation: Canadian Space Agency)
The link below is a computer-generated animation shows Dextre, the Canadian robotic handyman on board the International Space Station (ISS), retrieving OPALS from inside the trunk of SpaceX's Dragon cargo ship, and installing it on the exterior of the ISS.

Dextre installs OPALS on the International Space Station.:




Space Station Live: Optical Communication From Space:




Space Station Live: Unpacking OPALS::




Live from the Space Station: Optical Communication From Space:




ISS Update: Optical Communications:




NASA's OPALS Instrument Beams Video from Space Over an Optical Comm from ISS on June 5, 2014: NASA's OPALS Beams Video from Space:




This tracking video was recorded at the Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory (OCTL) at the JPL Table Mountain Facility (TMF) in Wrightwood, CA on the morning of April 3, 2013 between the hours of 5:53am and 5:59am local time. This video shows the view through the 500-urad wide main scope at the OCTL telescope throughout the 6-minute pass over Los Angeles, ranging from a distance of 1200km at the approaching horizon at 5:53am, to a closest approach of 422 km at 5:55:43am, to a distance of nearly 1500km at the departing horizon at 5:59am. The ISS approached from the northwest, to the west of San Francisco, and departed to the southeast, just to the east of Baja California. At closest approach, the ISS was approximately 72 degrees above the horizon.

Tracking video recorded at the Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory (OCTL)
Tracking video recorded at the Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory (OCTL)



6. Publications:
Oaida, B., Abrahamson, M., Witoff, J., Bowles-Martinez, J., and Zayas, D., "OPALS: An Optical Communications Technology Demonstration from the International Space Station," Aerospace Conference, IEEE, Big Sky, MT, 2-9 March 2013.

Oaida, B., Wu, W., Erkmen, B., Biswas, A., Andrews, K., Kokorowski, K., and Wilkerson, M., "Optical Link Design and Validation Testing of the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) System," Proc. SPIE 8971, Free-Space Laser Communication and Atmospheric Propagation XXVI, 897131, February 2014.

Abrahamson, M., Sindiy, O., Oaida, B., Fregoso, S., Bowles-Martinez, J., Kokorowski, M., Wilkerson, W., and Konyha, A., "OPALS: Mission System Operations Architecture for an Optical Communications Demonstration on the ISS," SpaceOps 2014 13th International Conference on Space Operations, Pasadena, CA, 5-9 May 2014. AIAA-2014-1627."

JPL Press Release: NASA Beams 'Hello, World!' Video from Space via Laser.

For additional information, contact Matthew Abrahamson: Matthew.Abrahamson@jpl.nasa.gov or go to http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/861.html