Building a broadband connection to outer space requires something entirely sci-fi: a laser beam that can hit the moon.
Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington recently tested just such a contraption. They fired a laser from a NASA base station in White Sands, N.M., at a lunar satellite about the size of a small car some 240,000 miles from Earth and nailed it with a stream of data.
Beyond demonstrating impressive marksmanship, the test did something even more extraordinary: It sent data back to Earth at the fastest transfer speed ever recorded for deep-space communication, six times the rate of the best technology and quicker than the fastest Internet connection that most people on the planet can buy.
This Is What a Laser From the Moon Looks Like
NASA’s newest moon orbiter is beaming data to Earth via a powerful laser beam to test an innovative interplanetary communications systems that doesn’t rely on radio waves, and a new photo reveals just what a moon laser signal looks like in infrared. The recent image released by the European Space Agency shows a laser signal from the LADEE moon probe received by the agency’s as seen by its ground station on the island of Tenerife, Spain, off the west coast of Africa. The LADEE probe beamed the laser signal across 248,548 miles (400,000 kilometers) to reach Earth from its position in lunar orbit.
Image courtesy of ROBERT LAFON/NASA GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER