Washington: NASA’s gen-next laser communication system has made history using a pulsed laser beam to transmit data over the 384,633 kilometres between the Moon and Earth.
The data transmission was accomplished at a record-breaking download rate of 622 megabits per second
(Mbps) – six times faster than radio communications from the Moon.
Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) is NASA’s first system for two-way communication using a laser instead of radio waves.
It has also demonstrated an error-free data upload rate of 20 Mbps transmitted from the primary ground station in New Mexico to the spacecraft currently orbiting the Moon.
“LLCD is the first step on our roadmap toward building the next generation of space communication capability,” said Badri Younes, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation (SCaN) in Washington.
“We are encouraged by the results of the demonstration to this point, and we are confident we are on the right path to introduce this new capability into operational service soon,” Younes said in a statement.
Since NASA first ventured into space, it has relied on radio frequency (RF) communication. However, RF is reaching its limit as demand for more data capacity continues to increase.
The development and deployment of laser communications will enable NASA to extend communication capabilities such as increased image resolution and 3-D video transmission from deep space.
LLCD is a short-duration experiment and the precursor to NASA’s long-duration demonstration, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD).
LCRD is a part of the agency’s Technology Demonstration Missions Programme, which is working to develop crosscutting technology capable of operating in the rigors of space. It is scheduled to launch in 2017.
LLCD is hosted aboard NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), launched in September from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island.
LADEE is a 100-day robotic mission to provide data that will help NASA determine whether dust caused the mysterious glow astronauts observed on the lunar horizon during several Apollo missions. It also will explore the Moon’s atmosphere.