Multi-Gigabit, Scalable & Energy Efficient on-board Digital Processors Employing Multi-core, Vertical, Embedded Opto-electronic Engines (MERLIN)

New multi-beam Tera-scale capacity satellites will require a disruptive approach to address digital on-board processors that rely on electronics which consume space, power and cost and reach their capacity saturation. The disruptive solution must combine scalability, technical feasibility, power-efficiency and cost-effectiveness. MERLIN aims to provide this solution realizing multi-gigabit optical inter-connectivity with a unique combination of low-power and high-bandwidth multimode (MM) GaAs VCSEL/PDs, low power, radiation-hardened BiCMOS drivers and radiation-hardened multi-core fibers (MCFs). MERLIN will integrate these technologies on a space grade photonic integration capable to provide ruggedized transceiver modules with a record-high 150Gb/s throughput and 6mW/ Gb/s energy consumption which is a 3-fold improvement against state-of-the-art (SOTA) US-based products. MERLIN will fabricate the first >15GHz MCF-matched 850nm VCSELs operating at -40 to +100 oC and will drive energy consumption down to <200 fJ/bit (0.2 mW/Gb/s). MERLIN will demonstrate the first >30 GHz MM MCF-PDs with >0.6A/W responsivity. MERLIN will couple MCF-VCSELs/PDs to the first 6-core radiation-hard MM-MCF to offer the capability for single-feedthrough robust and hermetic module packaging. Fibers will be distributed through a monolithic fan-out avoiding the use and procurement of expensive connectors. MERLIN will develop the first 25 Gb/s 6-channel, driver/TIA ICs with record-low <2pJ/bit energy consumption in a 5-fold decrease against SOTA products. ICs will be fabricated with IHP 0.25µm SiGe BiCMOS process which is under ESA qualification. MERLIN will fabricate an opto-electronic 6x25 Gb/s capable ADC/DAC module using MCF optical interfaces and will test it in a full-scale optical interconnect breadboard demonstrator. Finally, MERLIN will perform space assessment tests on all the components to align development towards a European space qualifiable system.

Partner organizations

  • OFS (Private, Denmark)
  • Philips Technologie (Private, Germany)
  • Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) (Private, Finland)
  • Thales Alenia Space France (Private, France)
  • Innovations for High Performance Microelectronics (IHP) (Research Institute, Germany)
Start date 01/10/2013
End date The project is closed: 30/09/2016

The MERLIN project aims at developing space qualified high capacity, high bandwidth density and high efficiency optical interconnects based on multicore optical fiber. Transceiver modules with monolithic arrays of VCSELs and photodetectors and multichannel driver and receiver ICs are developed. The target capacity is 25 Gbps per channel for an aggregate capacity of 150 Gbps. 


Members of FORCE work with a number of partners throughout Europe with the specific task of developing 6-channel VCSEL arrays fulfilling requirements in terms of performance, crosstalk and integration compatibility over a wide temperature range.

Project leader

Funded by

  • European Commission (FP7) (Public, Belgium)
  • Gooch & Housego (Torquay, UK)

  • Philips Photonics (Ulm, Germany)

  • IHP (Frankfurt am Oder, Germany)

  • VTT (Oulu, Finland)

  • OFS (Brondby, Denmark)

  • Thales Alenia Space (Toulouse, France)

Published: Thu 31 May 2018.