The ESA's and Airbus Defence and Space's ambitious European Data Relay System (EDRS) project has reached a milestone this January 29th. Its first laser-satellite system has blasted off to space aboard a Proton rocket from Kazakhstan. The satellite is now heading towards its geostationary position above Europe, where it will follow the Earth's direction as it rotates. The EDRS project, which is also called "SpaceDataHighway," aims to launch a constellation of geostationary satellites that can receive and transmit data in near-real time.
It will provide a quick means of communication between satellites, drones, spacecraft and ground stations. A satellite in low-Earth orbit observing the planet could, for instance, relay data to an EDRS node via laser beam. The EDRS can then immediately transmit that info to the ground, and users can access it in near-real time. Low-Earth satellites typically have to come within view of a ground station before they can relay data. That makes the EDRS extremely useful for disaster response and rescue missions, as it would allow first responders to download photos and other data they need as soon as possible.
The first node deployed on January 29th will be used by the European Commission's Copernicus Sentinel satellites that monitor our environment from above. Next year, the partners are launching a second laser-satellite combo, followed by a third one in 2020. Before the third node lifts off, though, the EDRS will start relaying data for the ISS in 2018.