Laser Space Communication Systems to play instrumental role in future missions: NASA

The US space agency NASA is doing intensive research to develop laser-based space communications systems which will play a major role in ensuring rapid and accurate transmission of information from spacecrafts around the solar system.

Since inception of the space missions, NASA probes have beamed data home to Earth using radio-frequency communication.

Why do we need Laser Space Communication Systems?

As compared to primitive stages of space missions, we have now advanced to more highly detailed science and larger volume of data is generated which the radio-based communication links are less efficient to transmit. Space laser communications technology has the potential to provide 10 to 100 times higher data rates than traditional radio frequency systems for the same mass and power. Alternatively, numerous NASA studies have shown that a laser communications system will use less mass and power than a radio frequency system for the same data rate.

What are NASA’s plans for laser communication systems?

In order to test the potential and applicability of laser communication systems in space missions, NASA has planned Laser Communications Relay Demonstration mission (LCRD), which is slated to be launched in December 2017. 

What is Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD)? 

Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) mission is a NASA mission to use laser light to transfer data from orbit to ground and all around the solar system. LCRD will be launched to geosynchronous orbit as a payload on a commercial communications satellite developed by the company Space Systems/Loral. The experiment involves the use of two optical modules to use lasers to send information to ground stations at rates of up to 1.25 gigabytes per second. LCRD will operate for at least 2 years, with the aim of demonstrating the long-term viability of a space-based laser communications system.

LCRD is based on the technology that has already been experimented successfully in the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration experiment, or LLCD, which was launched to the moon aboard NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer spacecraft in October 2013.

LLCD used a pulsed laser beam to send data 384,400 kilometers from lunar orbit to Earth at a rate of 622 megabits per second. Comparatively, the LLCD system is also more efficient than the radio-frequency approach employed by LRO and other spacecraft, requiring significantly less mass and power.



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