Europe has launched the second satellite in its space laser telecommunications network.
It will use optical beams to retrieve images and data from other spacecraft and then bring this information to the ground.
EDRS-C, as it is known, was launched on Tuesday by an Ariane 5 rocket from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana.
It connects the first node in the network, EDRS-A, which was set up in 2016.
That The spaceship was positioned over Central Africa to service Europe.
The new satellite will be positioned slightly east and provide additional capacity there.
The European Data Relay System is a joint venture between the European Space Agency and the aerospace giant Airbus.
It is mainly used by the Earth observation aircraft Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 of the European Union. These platforms take pictures of the surface of the planet.
Normally, such satellites had to wait until they had passed a radio receiver dish on the floor before downloading their pictures, which could mean a delay of over an hour as they rounded the globe.
But the Sentinels were equipped to connect to the 1.8-gigabit laser links of the EDRS satellites.
The relay platforms revolve much higher in the sky – about 36,000 km in height – and always have the view of a radio antenna on the ground.
The ability has special relevance in the area of natural disasters such as large floods or large earthquakes.
Information about the extent of these emergencies can be put in the hands of first responders much faster than would normally be the case.
"We have shown that it is possible to have a Sentinel image on-site and operational." Magali Vaissiere, Telecom Director at Esa, told BBC News that the acquisition took only 15 minutes.
"The launch of EDRS-C, of course, adds extra capacity to the network, but also provides redundancy, a backup you need in an operating system."
Between One-Third and One-Half All Sentinels 1 and 2 image data are now routed via EDRS, and usage will certainly increase with the second node in orbit.
With the relay system, data from the European Columbus science laboratory on the space station is to be regularly pulled to the ground. Future earth observation satellites are also actively planned for EDRS, including the next series of Sentinels and Airbus satellites, Pléiades Neo, which will host Earth images at a resolution of 30 cm. According to Airbus, air reconnaissance could also use the laser connections.
A third node, EDRS-D, should be launched over the Asia-Pacific region by 2025.
Esa wants optical technology to play a much bigger role in space communications.
Telecommunication satellites based exclusively on radio frequency transmissions are left behind by the performance of terrestrial fiber optic networks.
Over time, applications, broadcasts, and the services that transmit messages from connected devices (the so-called Internet of Things) are severely limited.
For this reason, the Space Agency will propose to European Research Ministers in November to fund the research and development necessary to overcome the "bottleneck in the skies".
The Esas High Throughput Optical Network (HyDRON) project provides laser links, not only between satellites, but between spacecraft and ground.
This raises certain challenges, including the question of how light transmissions can be controlled by a turbulent – and often cloudy – atmosphere.
However, if the technologies can be mastered, they should allow terabit per second connections.
"We have demonstrated with EDRS that we are leaders in Europe in these technologies, and one of the strategic lines we have defined for [the ministerial meeting] will be dedicated to optical applications to strengthen that leadership," he said the Esa-telecom director said.
The Ka-band payload on the 3-tonne EDRS-C satellite was provided by London-based telecommunications company Avanti.
Avanti calls the Hylas-3 payload and will use it to provide broadband and other data services to markets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.