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NASA developing laser tech for high-speed space internet

Thu 23 Mar 2017

LCRD

NASA is developing a space-based internet system using laser technology to enable higher data rates for communications between astronauts, spacecraft and Earth.

The interplanetary system, named the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), encodes data into beams of light which can be transmitted through space. The agency has pegged the new solution as the ‘high-speed internet of the sky.’

A NASA blog post claimed that the data can be transferred at gigabits per second, 10 to 100 times faster than radio-frequency (RF) systems, which have been used for spacecraft communications since the 1950s. The equipment is also considerably smaller and more light-weight than previous solutions.

Following a prototype launch in the summer of 2019, the first LCRD system is expected to be set up on the International Space System (ISS) two years later in 2021. In the meantime, NASA will continue to trial and improve the reliability of the technology with two ground-base laser terminals in California and Hawaii.

‘LCRD is the next step in implementing NASA’s vision of using optical communications for both near-Earth and deep space missions…This technology has the potential to revolutionize space communications,’ said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which coordinates the LCRD project.

The mission builds upon the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) – a successful pathfinder mission onboard the Lunar Atmosphere Dust and Environment Explorer in 2013.

The researchers explained that while the LLCD was the first to demonstrate high-data-rate laser communications beyond low-Earth orbit, the new LCRD technology aims to demonstrate the system’s operational longevity and reliability.

The new project will also test LCRD’s capabilities within many different environmental conditions and operational scenarios.

‘With LCRD, we’ll have the opportunity to put laser communications through its paces to test the performance over different weather conditions and times of day to get that experience,’ said LCRD principal investigator, Dave Israel.

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