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The aim of this project is to further the development of ultra-precise laser timing links to support the next-generation of pioneering space missions and cutting-edge timing technology.

The phase-stabilised transfer of optical-frequency signals over free-space laser links, particularly between ground stations and satellites, will revolutionise fields ranging from space-to-ground optical communications, to tests of General Relativity and fundamental physics.

At UWA, we are constructing the Western Australian Optical Ground Station with the potential to support NASA’s Artemis mission to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024. (https://www.icrar.org/uwa-space-station/)

Students will work as part of the Astrophotonics Group (www.icrar.org/astrophotonics) at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) and the International Space Centre (ICS) to help develop technologies for high precision ground-to-space laser links. Several project themes are on offer including:

  • Ground station telescope optics – the student will use optical software to model the optics of our Planewave CDK700 telescope to optimize the transmitted and received beams for tests from fake satellites such as drones and high-altitude balloons, as well as from satellites. The student will also model the response of controllable mirrors used to stabilize the laser transmission through atmospheric turbulence. The student can then contribute to the construction and testing of this active-optics system. Successful outcomes of this project will be to transmit and receive laser signals from a drone or other airborne platform.
  • Ground station telescope electronics and software – the student will develop interfaces with the CDK700 telescope to make it track known satellites from orbital para meters published by satellite operators and tracking stations. This will also involve developing an interface where the telescope works out the direction of, and homes in on via computer vision or a scan algorithm, a target (such as drone) from its GPS location. Successful outcomes of this project will be to demonstrate the
    acquisition and tracking of known satellites, and drones or other airborne targets.
  • Development of mobile optical laser terminal – the student will design, build, and test an automatic alignment and tracking system for two commercial-grade optical telescope mounts. The mounts will need to communicate their GPS-obtained positions to each other via mobile network, steer towards each other for a rough alignment, then achieve final alignment and live tracking using machine vision of a beacon laser detected with a camera. Two control systems are used to stabilize the laser link against atmospheric turbulence. This project will use a quad-photodetector to measure the position of the laser beam and control a fast-steering mirror to guide the beam at speeds faster than the fluctuations of the atmosphere, and an optical fibre based phase-stabilisation system to suppress the optical fluctuations occurring along the line of sight of the laser beam.

This work will be conducted in collaboration with the SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre (University of South Australia, the Defence Science and Technology Group, Thales Australia, and Thales Alenia Space), Goonhilly Earth Station Ltd., the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems, the French national Space Agency CNES, and the Sytèmes de Référence Temps Espace at Paris Observatory.