PTD-3 (Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator)
PTD-3 (Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator)
Spacecraft name PTD-3 TBIRD (PTD3, Tyvak-0125, PTHFDR, Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator, NASA PATHFINDER TD 3)
Type CubeSat
Units or mass 6U
Status Operational (Press release on 2022-12-05 of successful laser transmission test as of 2022-12-21. SmallSat 2023 presentation.)
Launched 2022-05-25
NORAD ID 52734
Deployer RailPOD [Tyvak]
Launcher Falcon 9 (Transporter-5)
Organisation NASA Ames Research Center
Institution Space agency
Entity Government (Civil / Military)
Headquarters US
Manufacturer AIVT by Terran Orbital
Operator Terran Orbital
Launch brokerer NASA CSLI / ELaNa
Partners MIT Lincoln Laboratory

Demonstrate a new laser communications system from MIT Lincoln Laboratory.


Will demonstrate a new laser communications system from MIT Lincoln Laboratory capable of sending large amounts of data to ground stations from low-Earth orbit. This system could deliver up to 10 terabytes of data per day to a ground station.

For reference, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope generates about 10 terabytes of data per year. Tyvak Nanosatellite Systems will provide the CubeSat and orbital operations alongside NASA.

The TBIRD team is preparing for its upcoming launch, anticipated for June 2022. Recently, they delivered the payload to Tyvak, a company that specializes in small spacecraft development and integration. TBIRD will be a hosted payload on the Pathfinder Technology Demonstration (PTD) 3 mission. During the delivery to Tyvak, the entire payload was able to fit into the overhead bins of a commercial aircraft with space to spare.


The demonstration connected the TeraByte InfraRed Delivery (TBIRD) laser communications payload aboard NASA’s Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator 3 Satellite (PTD-3) to the ground, transmitting 1.4 TB of test data in a single ground station pass lasting less than 5 minutes. TBIRD is a NASA Space Communications and Navigation payload developed by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

NASA’s Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator (PTD) mission series tests the operation of a variety of novel satellite technologies to provide significant enhancement to the performance of versatile spacecraft. Terran Orbital designed, built, integrated, and operated the spacecraft for the first PTD satellite, PTD-1, to demonstrate a propulsion system with a water-based propellant generated via water electrolysis. PTD-3 is also a Terran Orbital-developed satellite with added components to support the TBIRD payload. This optical communication technology demonstration aims to advance the state of the art for high-speed, direct-to-Earth transmission of data from low Earth-orbiting satellites to ground stations, targeting downlink at the unprecedented rate of 200 gigabits per second. Fast, error-free transfer of extremely high volumes of data may transform the operations and missions of scientific, commercial, and defense satellites.

Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator 3 (PTD-3) satellite enabled a successful 200 gigabits per second space-to-ground optical link. The NASA satellite hosts the TeraByte InfraRed Delivery (TBIRD) payload funded by NASA Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) and developed by MIT Lincoln Laboratory. Previously, Terran Orbital aided TBIRD’s data transmission of 1.4 terabytes of test data to a single ground station in a pass that lasted less than five minutes – a record breaker at the time in terms of both speed and data transmission quantity. The 200 gigabits per second space-to-ground optical link broke this record.

Key achievements:

Sources [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]
Photo sources [1] [2]
COTS subsystems
  • PLATFORM - Tyvak
Keywords Laser transmitter

Last modified: 2023-12-02

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