NASA Laser Communications With Moon
October 23, 2013

NASA Uses Laser To Communicate With The Moon

[ Watch the Video: NASA Sets Data Transmissions Record To The Moon ]

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

NASA’s new laser communication system has become the first ever to send data to the moon without two-way radios. The space agency used the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission as the platform for this demonstration, transmitting data over 239,000 miles between the Earth and Moon at 622 megabits per second (mbps), setting a new record in transfer speeds.

NASA named the project the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) and say they need to switch from radio to accommodate the larger data packets being sent to and from space. LLCD is designed to send up to six times more data than previous two-way communications while consuming 25 percent less power. Eventually NASA hopes the laser will be capable of streaming high-definition video into outer space just as it’s streamed here on Earth. As it stands LLCD is capable of sending error-free data uploads at a speed of only 20 Mbps.

LLCD was initiated as an experiment aboard the 100-day unmanned LADEE mission to the moon. In addition to testing laser communications, LADEE will also explore the moon’s atmosphere and attempt to determine if lunar dust caused the glow seen by Apollo astronauts.

[ Watch the Video: LLCD: Proving Laser Communication Possible ]

"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).

"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."

The LLCD was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory and aims to be the future of all NASA communications going forward. According to NASA, the latest demonstration only tested the feasibility of this type of communication for short durations. Up next is another demonstration to check the long-duration capabilities with the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD).

NASA’s Technology Demonstration Missions Program is in charge of the LCRD project and hope to use it to develop a crosscutting technology which can handle the rough conditions of operating in outer space. NASA hopes to launch the LCRD test in 2017. According to NASA engineers, LCRD will be the equivalent of having Verizon’s FiOS connectivity in space.

“Just as the home Internet user hit the wall with dial-up, NASA is approaching the limit of what its existing communications network can handle,” said LCRD Principal Investigator Dave Israel in a 2011 interview. “With the higher-speed modem type, future systems could support data rates of tens of gigabits per second.”

The 100-day robotic LADEE mission delivered more than the beginnings of laser-based communications to the moon. This mission also marked the maiden voyage of the new Minotaur V rocket, a converted ballistic missile.