NASA launches Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD)

On December 7, 2021, NASA launched its new Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Key Points

  • LCRD is the first-ever laser communications system of NASA.
  • It will help NASA in test optical communication in space.
  • Presently, most of the NASA spacecraft use radio frequency communications to send data.
  • But the Optical communications will help in increasing the bandwidth by 10 to 100 times as compared to radio frequency systems.
  • LCRD will also demonstrate all of the advantages of using laser systems.
  • With this capability, laser communications can be implemented on more missions in a bid to standardise way to send and receive data.

Features of LCRD

  • LCRD comprises of two optical terminals:
  1. One of the terminals is used to receive data from a user spacecraft.
  2. While, the other terminal is used to transmit data to ground stations.
  • LCRD also has modems, which will translate digital data into laser signals.
  • These signals will then be transmitted through encoded beams of light.
  • These capabilities of LCRD make it NASA’s first two-way, end-to-end optical relay.

Advantage of Laser communication systems

  • Laser communications and radio waves make use of different wavelengths of light.
  • Laser system uses infrared light and is having a shorter wavelength as compared to radio waves. It will help in transmitting more data in a short time.
  • As per NASA’s estimate, it would take around nine weeks to transmit a completed map of Mars back to Earth using the current radio frequency systems. While, with laser systems, it can be accelerated to around nine days.
  • LCRD will send data to Earth at 1.2 gigabits-per-second (Gbps), using infrared lasers. With this speed, one can download a movie in less than a minute.
  • Optical communications systems are having smaller size & weight. They require less power as compared to radio instruments.

What is hosting the LCRD?

LCRD payload is hosted onboard the Space Test Programme Satellite 6 (STPSat-6) of the US Department of Defense Space. It will be in a geosynchronous orbit, about 35,000 km above Earth.

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