Europe has launched the first component of a new space "data highway." The EDRS-A will enable faster monitoring of natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes by utilizing laser-based communications technology.
The European Data Relay Satellite A (EDRS-A), the first element of the ERDS system, a space-based 'data highway' which costs nearly 500 million euros ($545 million), blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan onboard a Proton rocket on Saturday at 4:20 a.m. local time (2220 UTC, Friday).
EDRS-A will orbit Earth at an altitude of roughly 36,000 kilometers (22,400 miles) on the back of the Eutelsat 9B communications satellite. The node will considerably improve transmission of large amounts of data, such as pictures and radar images of sea ice, oil spills or floods, to users in Europe, Africa and the Atlantic area.
The onboard laser terminal, which essentially works like an autonomous telescope, is capable of locking on to moving targets on Earth, meaning that satellites in orbit of Earth will no longer have to wait for a ground station to come into view to transmit data.
The node will send data to and from Earth or between satellites at a rate of 1.8 gigabits per second.
A second satellite, EDRS-C, is to be launched in mid-2017. Further satellites could also team up with commercial crafts.
"We are open to pairing a third EDRS payload with a future Eutelsat satellite," Yohann Leroy, Eutelsat's chief technical officer, told Reuters news agency.
The EDRS system is a public-private partnership between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Airbus Defence and Space corporation.
ksb/sms (Reuters, dpa)