Using laser communications, NASA conducted the first tests on what could one day be a ‘deep space’ internet
According to Don Cornwell, the manager of NASA’s Lunar Laser Communications Mission said that all systems that were tested were running completely error free. This is encouraging NASA to believe a laser communications are probably the building blocks of the future outer space Internet. Cornwell said that, with networking that is delay tolerant, what they are doing now is the beginning of the future.
Using laser communications would allow future astronauts and robots such as the Mars rover Curiosity or any future lunar orbiter, to transfer much greater amount of data, regardless of where they are located – on the moon or orbiting around Earth. Astronauts, robots and rovers are expected to collect all kinds of data, take photos and measurements, and send them to the crew on Earth without the bottleneck that could cripple the mission.
If the tested system proves to works as expected, similar laser-based communications systems are going to be used not only for deep space communications, but also instead of radio systems to increase the speed of all satellite communications.
The system works by a laser beam that is sent from the Earth station (there are three of them now), to the spacecraft that is orbiting the Moon. The spacecraft is as big as a man and can relay 20 Mbps. The downlink, which is going from the spacecraft to one of the stations on Earth, can relay 622 Mbps, six times faster than what is possible using radio communications.