We’ve already seen NASA use its experimental laser communications system to beam an image of the Mona Lisa to the moon. Now, NASA has mounted a portable version of the system onto a droid it plans to blast into space.
NASA just finished testing and installed its first high-data-rate laser communications system for the moon-orbiting Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE). When the probe launches later this year, the mission will mark the first time NASA has moved away from a radio transmission-based system to a full-on laser data link.
The laser communication system, called the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD), uses an infrared laser that transmits high-speed in the same way the fiber-optic cables in your house do. The scientists expect that the increased data throughput will allow them to control the satellite in real-time and download 3D high-definition video – whereas the traditional S-band communications would take 639 hours to download an average-length HD movie.
Of course there are some inherent problems with transmitting light from space to Earth. For starters, the LLCD will have to point a laser beam to ground stations located in Mexico, California or Spain from a distance of approximately 238,900 miles (384,472km) while moving through space.
“This pointing challenge is the equivalent of a golfer hitting a ‘hole-in-one’ from a distance of almost five miles,” said Donald Cornwell, LLCD mission manager, in a release. “Developers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory have designed a sophisticated system to cancel out the slightest spacecraft vibrations. This is in addition to dealing with other challenges of pointing and tracking the system from such a distance.”
If all goes well with the LLCD, NASA plans to use the mission as a pathfinder for its upcoming Laser Communication Relay Demonstration which the agency hopes to launch in 2017.
By Kevin Lee, TechHive.
Kevin is a small-time tech hound, amateur photographer and a general know-at-least-something of all things geeky hailing from New York. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @baggingspam