ITT Space Systems Wins NASA Laser Contract
ROCHESTER, N.Y., April 2, 2014 — NASA has enlisted ITT Space Systems to develop an optical assembly that will ultimately validate high-speed laser transmission of data from Earth’s orbit and deep space.
As part of the $6.2 million, 15-month Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) project, ITT will build two optical assemblies that will act as commercial satellite payloads prior to ground validation testing and a 2017 launch date. The assemblies will be integrated into modules that will transmit and receive data through free space.
LCRD will demonstrate optical communications relay services between geosynchronous orbit and Earth over an extended period. The project also will allow for the creation of cost-effective optical communications systems and relay networks in the future.
The Laser Communications Relay Demonstration project is set to launch in 2017. Courtesy of NASA.
Currently, data and video transmission between Earth and space relies on radio frequency. Shifting to optical and terrestrial communications will increase the available bandwidth, scientists say, prompting better speed and efficiency.
In addition, free-space lasers could help reduce payload weight, which has long been a cost factor of space launches.
LCRD and free-space optics could potentially support more distant activities, as well, including studies of other planets and remote systems. According to NASA, this “leap in technology could deliver video and high-resolution measurements from spacecraft over planets across the solar system.”
Near-IR laser links will be tested from ground stations in California and New Mexico, which will beam data to and from the satellite. The work also will include additional studies on the impact of clouds and other atmospheric turbulence, which have posed problems for free-space lasers and terrestrial communications.
The LCRD project will build on work by MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory for the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration used by the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission. It all ties to earlier work done as part of the Mars Laser Communications Demonstration.
NASA also is planning creation of a digital processor assembly for the LCRD project, to be developed by SEAKR Engineering in Colorado.
For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov