Lunar Exploration, Commercial Space Station… What is the Potential of Optical Communication? Space Symposium” Report

Space Symposium, one of the largest conferences in the U.S. dedicated to the space industry, was held from April 4 to 7.

The conference covers a wide range of topics, from earth observation projects to space exploration but has been postponed since 2019 due to the impact of the COVID19 infection. This year was the first time in two years that the event was held, and according to CSO Mori, who was able to attend meetings with overseas partners, companies seemed to put more effort into their exhibits than in previous years. Here is a summary report of the topics discussed at the Space Symposium and how the event went.

(Opening Ceremony ©︎Space Foundation)

Greater attention to Space Force and SDA, requesting a larger budget for FY23.

Approximately 14,000 visitors attended this year’s show. According to the organizers, about 200 companies and organizations had booths.

Since the Space Symposium is held in Colorado Springs, where the Space Force base is located, many Space Force personnel attended. Among the various sessions held in various fields, the session that attracted the most attention was “Leveraging the Synergy of Proliferated LEO and GEO Systems for National Security Missions,” Derek Tournear, the Director of the Space Development Agency (SDA), appeared.

SDA had previously been under the United States Secretary of Defense but was reorganized as a Space Force to increase its resources. The announcement on April 6 that the Space Force and SDA had decided to request a budget of $5 billion more than in the previous fiscal year may have been a topic that caught launch operators’ and satellite operators’ attention.

More progress in the Lunar Surface Development. Toyota Motor Corporation unveiled its lunar rover demo vehicle for the first time.

The focus of the exhibition booths was on challenging areas such as “commercial space stations” and “lunar exploration.

Several concepts were announced for a coalition of several private companies to build their space station by 2021. This Space Symposium was the first major conference to be held since the concept was announced, and the companies seemed to put a lot of effort into their booth and goodies.

(Lockheed Martin’s exhibit booth, which announced plans to work with Nanoracks and Voyager Space to build a commercial space station called Starlab.)
(Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation booth. They were selected as the lunar orbital gateway habitable module developer in coalition with Dynetics. They plan to build a low Earth orbit space station).
(Sierra Space exhibit booth, which plans to build the Orbital Reef commercial space station in collaboration with Blue Origin.)

A hot topic in the field of lunar exploration was the lunar rover. Toyota’s booth featured the world’s first demonstration of the LUNAR CRUISER, a manned pressurized rover that the company is jointly researching with JAXA and others.

(Demonstration of the LUNAR CRUISER, a manned pressurized rover under development for launch in the late 2020s)

Although there was no demonstration due to space limitations, the project’s seriousness was evident in displaying a working demonstration model.

Furthermore, during the Space Symposium, it was announced that Nissan’s North American base, Teledyne Brown Engineering, and Sierra Space are working together to develop a manned lunar rover for NASA. I think they see a more significant win than the fact that they were able to sign a contract with NASA, which is leading the Artemis program.

As symbolized by these exhibits, lunar development will likely become more active as we move toward lunar exploration and human-crewed lunar landings under the Artemis mission. But of course, at first, there will be no ground station or data center on the Moon. For the time being, data from experiments will need to be transmitted to Earth for analysis.

Currently, there is an insufficient capacity of communication infrastructure to downlink data captured by observation satellites in LEO using radio waves, the primary communication method. However, if full-scale lunar development proceeds, it will be necessary to support the project and research of those who stay on the Moon by having about 100 terminals communicating with the Earth in near real-time. Suppose researchers and travelers are constantly staying on the commercial space stations of various companies in LEO. In that case, the amount of communication required will be much more significant than on the ISS. This is where optical communication technology is attracting attention.

In January 2022, JAXA commissioned us to study the practical application of a communication system connecting the Moon and the Earth. We have started specific studies toward providing optical communication services to the Moon. Through these projects, we will continue to collaborate with various operators who have emerged in the Space Symposium to contribute to the aspect of communications in space.

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We are startup company started as a project in University of Tsukuba, 2011. We will provide the optical telecommunication service with LEO Sat operator by 2023.

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WARPSPACE Inc.

WARPSPACE Inc.

We are startup company started as a project in University of Tsukuba, 2011. We will provide the optical telecommunication service with LEO Sat operator by 2023.

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