Sony launches a space laser subsidiary (for comms, not conflict)

Plans to beam data to satellites, and between orbiting birds too

Sony on Friday launched a subsidiary dedicated to optical communications – in space.

The new company, Sony Space Communications Corporation (SSCC) plans to develop small optical communication devices that connect satellites in low Earth orbit using a laser beam, and provide the resulting connection as a service.

These small devices can provide high speed communication more effectively than radio, because they do not need a large antenna, high power output or complicated licenses, said Sony in a canned statement.

The laser devices can communicate with both ground stations and between orbiting satellites. SSCC president Kyohei Iwamoto called communication that operates only between the ground and satellites "problematic" as it means sats must pass over a ground station to communicate.

"Currently there are approximately 12,000 satellites in space, and the number is expected to increase in the future. The amount of data used in orbit is also increasing year by year, but the amount of available radio waves is limited," said the president.

The new Sony org will be located in San Mateo, California, but details of when it expects to commercialize its tech has not been revealed.

Sony did say it had successfully sent high-definition image data from the International Space Station (ISS) to a ground station through a bidirectional laser communication link in a test. It followed that up two years later in 2022 by completing a data file transfer from stratosphere to space at 446 megabits per second, with the help of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

In those tests, Sony used CSL Forward Error Correction (FEC), which is essentially a laser reading technique that corrects a limited number of errors without a need for retransmission, that was derived from Blu-ray technology.

Sony reckons it's got this in the bag thanks to years of experience of working with lasers for CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and other industrial applications. Many of the devices Sony has made, like the orbital optical communications devices it wants to produce, are "ultra-compact, lightweight, mass producible, and can withstand harsh environments." ®

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