Communicating with small satellites using lasters


Clusters of small satellites continually orbit the Earth. They are useful for global communications and satellite navigation. Currently, radio waves are used to communicate between satellites and with stations on the ground. However, the rate of data transmission with radio waves is both slow and vulnerable to cyber attacks. 

Lasers provide a more secure and faster form of communication. The information can only be obtained, or stolen, when the narrow laser beams of light are intercepted. Laser communication works through switching the laser light on and off at very high speeds. 

Image of two satellites above the Earth. A laser beam is shown between the two satellites. Another laser beam goes from one satellite to the Earth.

Instructions for Visitors

Have a go at transmitting music to our small satellite using laser communications!


On the table there is a computer (iPad) to choose a music track. 


Pick up the torch, which is attached to a chain on the desk, and switch it on. 

A laser communications transmitter is built into the torch. 

Be careful not to point the torch into anyones eyes or look directly into the torch.


Point the torch towards the ceiling, where this is a small satellite hanging. If the laster communications is properly aligned it will trigger the music to start playing. 

Please switch off the torch and put it back on the table when you have finished for the next person to try.

The rest of this table (to the left of the torch) contains a range of 3D printed replicas of the different components from the CubeSat communications satellite. 

In the left and centre of the front row are two electrical chip boards used to control laser on the satellite. On the right and just on top of it are two more chip boards used to control the angle of the satellite. Towards left of that, in the middle of the second row, is a box of mirror assembly used to receive the light on the satellite. Moving further to the left in the same row is a radio device used for transmission. Moving on top in the farthest row is the computer. On the right of that is an electrical power unit. And the rightmost element in this back row is a battery pack used to power the satellite. 

On the far left of this table are two more components arranged in a column. The bottom one is the solar panel and the top one is the frame of the CubeSat assembly.