NASA Will Launch Laser Technology To Create High-Speed Space Internet

Posted: Mar 25 2017, 7:33am CDT | by , Updated: Mar 25 2017, 8:15am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
NASA will Use Laser Technology to Create High-Speed Space Internet
An artist's impression of a satellite using lasers to send data from Mars to Earth. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Laser communication system can transmit data 10 to 100 times faster than today's radio systems

NASA is taking a major step toward creating a high speed space internet by launching laser system to space. The laser technology known as Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) can transfer data up to 100 times faster than any existing radio frequency systems by using less mass and power and will revolutionize the way astronauts communicate or send and receive scientific data and videos from orbit to Earth. For instance, it currently takes 90 minutes to transmit high-resolution images from Mars, but NASA wants to significantly reduce that time to just a few minutes.

“LCRD is the next step in implementing NASA’s vision of using optical communications for both near-Earth and deep space missions,” said Steve Jurczyk from NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and leader of the LCRD project. “This technology has the potential to revolutionize space communications, and we are excited to partner with the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate’s Space Communications and Navigation program office, MIT Lincoln Labs and the U.S. Air Force on this effort.”

LCRD is one of the several projects NASA selected for development in 2011. The ground technology validation testing of LCRD will be conducted in 2017 while its payload is scheduled to launch in 2017. The LCRD payload will include telescopes, lasers, mirrors, detectors, a tracking system and different types of modems.

Contrary to radio systems, laser communication encodes data on light beam and then transfers it to ground-based terminals and to other distant destinations in the solar system and beyond. Since wavelength of the laser light is orders of magnitude shorter than radio waves, it can carry more bits of information. Moreover, laser communication systems can be much smaller than radio systems, allowing instruments to be relatively small in size yet greater in efficiency.

“LCRD is designed to operate for many years and will allow NASA to learn how to optimally use this disruptive new technology,” said Don Cornwell, who leads the development of the instrument. “We are also designing a laser terminal for the International Space Station that will use LCRD to relay data from the station to the ground at gigabit-per-second data rates. We plan to fly this new terminal in 2021, and once tested, we hope that many other Earth-orbiting NASA missions will also fly copies of it to relay their data through LCRD to the ground.”

LCRD is expected to function between two and five years. Once operational, it will send and receive data from two Earth terminals equipped with laser modems located in Southern California and in Hawaii.

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