NASA’s Deep Space Network has used radio frequency communications for more than four decades to support space exploration, but the agency believes lasers could be the next giant leap forward in communications.
Recently, NASA has successfully tested a broadband communications system built into its Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) probe, firing data to and from our Moon at rates of up to 622Mbps.
LADEE, launched last month (to the detriment of an unfortunate amphibian), houses a number of instruments designed to measure the state of the Moon’s scarce atmosphere while orbiting the space rock.
“LLCD(Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration) is the first step on our roadmap toward building the next generation of space communication capability. We are encouraged by the results of the demonstration to this point, and we are confident we are on the right path to introduce this new capability into operational service soon,” said Badri Younes, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for SCaN (space communications and navigation) in Washington.
Eventually NASA will embark on the LDCR (Laser Communications Relay Demonstration) project, which aims to develop technology capable of withstanding the conditions of space beyond the Earth’s orbit. This is scheduled to launch in 2017.
NASA believes future optical communications systems will be able to transmit data 10 to 100 times faster using a quarter less power, which will allow scientists to add 3-D video to the catalog of data types future satellites or rovers could beam back to Earth.
Photo Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center