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NASA Sets Laser Communications Record

LAS CRUCES, N.M., Oct. 25, 2013 — NASA's Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) transmitted data more than 239,000 miles between the moon and Earth using a pulsed laser beam. The download rate of 622 megabits per second is a record, the space agency said this week.

LLCD, NASA's first system for two-way communication using a laser instead of radio waves, also demonstrated an error-free data upload rate of 20 Mb/s transmitted from the primary ground station in New Mexico to the spacecraft currently orbiting the moon, NASA said.

"LLCD is the first step on our road map 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."


Launched last month aboard NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), a 100-day robotic mission orbiting the moon, the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration is NASA's first system for two-way communication using a laser instead of radio waves. Courtesy NASA.

LLCD launched last month aboard NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), a 100-day robotic mission orbiting the moon to gather detailed information about its atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust.

LLCD's main objective is to transmit hundreds of millions of bits of data per second from the moon to Earth, the equivalent of transmitting more than 100 high-definition television channels simultaneously. LLCD's receiving capability is also being tested as tens of millions of bits per second are sent from ground stations on Earth to the spacecraft. The demonstrations will prove that the technology for increased bandwidth is possible for future missions, something that could one day allow for 3-D HD video transmissions in deep space to become routine.

"The goal of LLCD is to validate and build confidence in this technology so that future missions will consider using it," said Don Cornwell, LLCD manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The short LLCD mission is a precursor to NASA's long-duration demonstration, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), which is scheduled to launch in 2017.

The LLCD system, flight terminal and primary ground terminal at NASA's White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, N.M., were developed by the Lincoln Laboratory at MIT. The Table Mountain Optical Communications Technology Laboratory operated by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is participating in the demonstration. A third ground station operated by the European Space Agency on Tenerife in the Canary Islands is also participating.

For more information, visit: http://llcd.gsfc.nasa.gov, www.nasa.gov/ladee, or http://esc.gsfc.nasa.gov/267/LCRD.html 


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