The ATOMIQ research project was conceived in order to tackle the digital gap. The goal of the project is to eliminate areas with limited internet access through the use of superfast broadband satellite connections in locations where fibre optic would prove too costly. The project is focused on developing next-generation filters compatible for use with high frequencies, with these widely available in satellite connections.
Ensuring that everyone has access to superfast broadband has become a key means of tackling the issue of inequality between regions. In France, a deadline of the end of 2022 has been set for this, but this will not be an easy task. In order to cover areas with low population density or which are geographically uneven, superfast broadband satellites can be used in addition to fibre optic. This was the idea in the minds of the ATOMIQ research team when they began working in 2014. The plan was to use the upper frequencies of the spectrum, the previously unused Q and V frequency bands, in order to ensure there is the requisite bandwidth for superfast broadband multimedia.
High-precision 3D printed ceramic filters
The ATOMIQ project focused its research on one key function in particular: signal filtering. Signal filtering allows you to select the appropriate frequency band and to eliminate any interference. As Hervé Leblond from Thales Alenia Space explains: “The more precise the filter, the better you are able to use the bandwidth, and the greater the speed.” There were two complications to this, however. The first concern : the required precision for objects, given that, in order to achieve high frequencies, you need extremely small filters, “somewhere in the region of just a few millimetres”. The second concern : durability, given the need for the payload on satellites to remain operational “for 15 years”.
A number of technological solutions were considered, including creating ceramic filters using additive manufacturing. What made this different was the need for such high levels of precision, with tolerance of +/- 40 microns. In the opinion of the project coordinator, “it was a major success”. “The component is reliable and is now capable of being used with our solutions”. Another technique was studied, one described as being “ahead of its time” compared to plastic additive manufacturing and the metal plating of components, and the results were promising: “This technology could become widespread further into the future.”
Satellite superfast broadband is becoming a reality
In addition to Thales Alenia Space, the consortium ATOMIQ brought together 6 other partners. Two SMEs: 3DCERAM and Thin Film Products. And four laboratories: Centre spatial de Toulouse, Lab-STICC, SPCTS and XLIM. Their collaboration came to an end in June 2018 after more than four years spent working together. In the intervening period, the original hypothesis involving superfast broadband being provided via satellites was confirmed. At the start of the year, Eutelsat Communications ordered a KONNECT VHTS satellite from Thales Alenia Space, with the purpose being to provide superfast broadband across Europe. “This first satellite contains technology that has already shown its worth. The ATOMIQ project will prove useful in the following steps. It supplies a toolkit in which teams working on future projects will be able to find technological solutions capable of meeting their needs.”
Beyond satellite-based multimedia, the technological solutions studied could also be used for other applications. “A project such as ATOMIQ opens up a space for sharing expertise and knowledge between industry and academia. It’s an ecosystem built around the technology of the future”, says Hervé Leblond.