ALTER UK wins ESA ARTES Contract for the Development of Optical Transceiver Modules


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ALTER TECHNOLOGY TÜV NORD UK Ltd has been awarded a new ESA contract, funded under the ARTES programme and supported by the UK Space Agency, for its DISTINCT project to develop novel high data rate optical transceivers.

The DISTINCT project will run for 36 months with a budget of £1.1M (€1.3M) for Alter UK as Prime Contractor with two not-for-profit RTO partners: Glasgow-based Fraunhofer UK Research Ltd, focussed on supporting the development of novel lasers and laser systems, and the Newport based Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult (CSA Catapult), which supports the use and development of compound semiconductors in novel applications.

The DISTINCT project will deliver a space-grade optical transceiver module with state-of-the-art power efficiency on a flexible platform. The project delivers modules operating at 28 or 56 Gb/s speeds, with 4, 8 or 12 channels and options for integrated or separated Tx and Rx functionality. The 3-year project will combine Alter UK’s legacy in designing and assembling devices for space operation with new microelectronic and photonic expertise. Alter UK will design, validate and manufacture the module, and the Fraunhofer Centre of Applied Photonics (Fraunhofer UK’s operational centre) will support the development of the optical engine for the platform, enabling the high-speed optical coupling required for operation. The CSA Catapult will provide the validation and test support for the components with high-speed communications test equipment and environmental test systems. ALTER UK will leverage its space-grade design philosophy to deliver a product ready for scale-up post-project.

Commenting, Stephen Duffy, CEO of ALTER UK, said,

In keeping with the increasing demands for data and bandwidth through terrestrial based data-centres, Very High Throughput Telecommunication Satellites are seeing similar demands, with massive bandwidth and data transfer requirements on the scale of tens of Tb/sec within the Digital Process payloads. At this bandwidth traditional electronic interconnect technologies are no longer fit for purpose and the only practical solution is with optical transceivers. Alter will leverage our world-class photonic and semiconductor design, manufacturing and test capability across our UK and European sites along with best-in-class core optical transceiver technology developed through our new Photonic Design Centre in Glasgow. We are grateful for the support of both UKSA and ESA and our partners in this exciting project.

ALTER has already demonstrated optical transceiver technology for 28GB/s per channel solutions through a recent EU project called SIPHODIAS and we are ideally placed to extend this technology to 56GB/s, while meeting the exacting demands of the Space and Hi-Rel markets. In addition, working with our RTO partners Fraunhofer Centre for Applied Photonics and CSA Catapult will allows us to address and fill key gaps in the UK supply chain” explained Dr. Una Marvet (†), Design Centre Director for ALTER.