Design of an optical photon counting array receiver system for deep-space communications
October 1, 2007
Proc. of the IEEE, Vol. 95, No. 10, October 2007, pp. 2059-2069.
Demand for increased capacity in deep-space to Earth communications systems continues to rise as sensor data rates climb and mission requirements expand. Optical freespace laser communications systems offer the potential for operating at data rates 10 to 1000 times that of current radiofrequency systems. A key element in an optical communications system is the Earth receiver. This paper reviews the design of a distributed photon-counting receiver array composed of four meter-class telescopes, developed as a part of the Mars Laser Communications Demonstration (MLCD) project. This design offers a cost-effective and adaptable alternative approach to traditional large, single-aperture receive elements while preserving the expected improvement in data rates enabled by free-space laser communications systems. Key challenges in developing distributed receivers and details of the MLCD design are discussed.