Satellite Communication, AI-generated © MidJourney

Demcon and VDL Groep combine their laser satellite communication activities in FSO Instruments. The company develops, manufactures, and supplies free-space optics (FSO) instruments, particularly laser satellite communication products. This builds on technology developed jointly with industry under the leadership of TNO. FSO Instruments is based in Delft. From there, a core team of system architects, engineers, and business developers work closely with Demcon, VDL ETG, TNO, and specialized suppliers.

Laser technology is emerging alongside the familiar radio technology for communications in free space. This technology provides fast, secure connections between ground stations, satellites, aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles. Laser satellite communication works by forming and directing laser beams over long distances. This requires complex technology, optomechatronics, which uses adaptive optics to compensate for atmospheric disturbances.

The Netherlands aspires to be a world market leader for the series production of high-quality FSO instruments for laser satellite communications. According to FSO Instruments, American and European companies have a concrete interest in this.

A complex world

With the cooperation, Demcon and VDL ETG want to take the step to the market. “A lot has already been done through TNO; now it is up to companies to industrialize,” says Gerard van den Eijkel, director of Demcon optomechatronics. “It was decided to bring together all the relevant expertise for laser satellite communications from the companies.” The world is becoming increasingly complex, and time-to-market is essential, according to Hans Priem, business manager at VDL ETG. “We believe we can make more of an impact through this collaboration.”

Module for laser satellite communication © FSO

Growth Fund application

TNO has been developing and building optical instrumentation for space (shipping), especially astronomy and Earth observation, for 50 years. According to Kees Buijsrogge, director of Space & Scientific Instrumentation at TNO, much experience has been gained in system design, accurate metrology, and compensation for the disturbances that occur when looking through the atmosphere. “Those competencies, altogether perhaps unique in the world, fit exactly with laser satellite communications.”

At an early stage, TNO involved Dutch companies, including Demcon and VDL ETG. “We build single pieces or, at most, a few systems, while there will be demand for hundreds or even thousands of pieces for laser satellite communications. That’s business for companies.” Priem: “TNO is good at developing concepts. We will work those out to what the market wants regarding functionality, cost, and reliability, including redesign-for-manufacturing and production.” This is happening, for example, in the Laser Satcom project, part of the National Growth Fund program NXTGEN HIGHTECH; Van den Eijkel and Priem wrote a proposal for it.

Developing markets

FSO Instruments will further develop TNO’s concepts and commercialize the technology. Van den Eijkel: “Eventually, FSO is going to introduce space-qualified products. To this end, it is building a network of first-line partners in our country. Demcon and VDL ETG Almelo will play a prominent role in this.” This is new for the Netherlands and also for the foreign space industry.  

TNO welcomes the cooperation between Demcon and VDL Groep, says Tjark Tjin-A-Tsoi, chairman of the board and CEO of TNO. “Our ambition is to build a European ecosystem for fast and safe laser satellite communications with strong Dutch input that the world cannot ignore. FSO Instruments as a joint venture between Demcon and VDL Groep is a great example.” TNO continues to collaborate on projects, adds TNO’s Buijsrogge. “Moreover, several of our system engineers are joining FSO to help accelerate further development.”

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