NASA’s Revolutionary Laser Communications Mission: 6 Things You Need To Know


Illustration of NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration speaking with the Worldwide Area Station over laser hyperlinks. Credit score: NASA’s Goddard Area Flight Heart

NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) will use laser communications techniques to transmit knowledge from area to Earth. Under are six issues it’s worthwhile to find out about NASA’s revolutionary LCRD mission.

1. Laser communications will remodel how NASA will get data to and from area.

Because the daybreak of area exploration, NASA has used radio frequency techniques to speak with astronauts and spacecraft. Nevertheless, as area missions generate and acquire extra knowledge, the necessity for enhanced communications capabilities will increase. LCRD leverages the facility of laser communications, which makes use of infrared mild relatively than radio waves, to encode and transmit data to and from Earth.

Each radio waves and laser infrared mild waves are types of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths at completely different factors on the spectrum. Missions encode their scientific knowledge onto the electromagnetic alerts to ship again to Earth.

The infrared mild used for laser communications differs from radio waves as a result of it happens at a a lot increased frequency, permitting engineers to pack extra knowledge into every transmission. Extra knowledge yields extra data and discoveries about area without delay.

Utilizing infrared lasers, LCRD will ship knowledge to Earth from geosynchronous orbit at 1.2 gigabits-per-second (Gbps). At this velocity and distance, you could possibly obtain a film in below a minute.


LCRD will fly as a hosted payload aboard a Division of Protection spacecraft as a part of the Area Check Program (STP-3) mission. LCRD will proceed NASA’s exploration of laser communications to help future missions to the Moon and past. Credit score: NASA Goddard Area Flight Heart

2. Laser communications will let spacecraft ship residence extra knowledge in a single downlink.

In the event you had been alive within the late ’80s and early ’90s, you’ll keep in mind the dial-up speeds of the terrestrial web – sluggish and painful. The addition of laser communications to spacecraft is much like humanity’s use of high-speed web with applied sciences like fiber optic networking: revolutionary.

Radio Waves Versus Optical Waves

Radio waves versus optical waves. Credit score: NASA

Our residence web connections today permit high-definition movies, exhibits, and content material to succeed in our screens nearly instantaneously. That is, partially, because of the fiber optic connections sending laser mild densely filled with knowledge by way of plastic or glass cables, making a sooner person expertise.

This similar idea – minus the fiber cables – is utilized to space-based laser communications, which permits spacecraft to ship high-resolution photos and movies over laser hyperlinks.

With laser communications in place, spacecraft can ship again extra knowledge without delay in a single obtain. NASA and the aerospace trade are profiting from these new developments and creating extra missions that use lasers to enhance radio frequency satellites.

3. The payload has two optical modules, or telescopes, for receiving and transmitting laser alerts.

LCRD is a relay satellite tv for pc with many extremely delicate elements that present elevated communications. As a relay, LCRD removes the necessity for person missions to have direct line-of-sight to antennas on Earth. LCRD has two optical terminals – one terminal receives knowledge from a person spacecraft, whereas the opposite transmits knowledge to floor stations on Earth.

LCRD Payload Etch

The LCRD payload within the cleanroom at Goddard Area Flight Heart. Credit score: NASA/Dave Ryan

LCRD’s modems translate digital knowledge into laser alerts, that are then transmitted by way of encoded beams of sunshine, invisible to the human eye, by the relay’s optical modules. LCRD can each ship and obtain knowledge, making a steady path for flowing mission knowledge to-and-from area. Collectively, these capabilities make LCRD NASA’s first two-way, end-to-end optical relay.

These are simply a number of the elements that make up the LCRD payload, which all collectively is the scale of a king mattress.

4. LCRD depends upon two floor stations in California and Hawaii.

As soon as LCRD receives data and encodes it, the payload sends the info to floor stations on Earth which can be every outfitted with telescopes to obtain the sunshine and modems to translate the encoded mild again into digital knowledge.

LCRD’s ground stations are often known as Optical Floor Stations (OGS) -1 and -2, and are situated on Table Mountain in Southern California, and on Haleakala Volcano in Maui, Hawaii.

Whereas laser communications can present elevated knowledge switch charges, atmospheric disturbances – reminiscent of clouds and turbulence – can intervene with laser alerts as they journey by way of Earth’s environment.

The places for OGS-1 and OSG-2 had been chosen for his or her clear climate circumstances and distant, high-altitude places. Many of the climate occurring in these areas takes place under the summit of the mountains, leaving comparatively clear skies excellent for laser communications.

5. LCRD permits authorities, academia, and industrial companions to check laser capabilities from geosynchronous orbit.

LCRD will show the viability of laser communications techniques from geosynchronous orbit – about 22,000 miles above Earth’s floor.

Previous to supporting different missions, LCRD will spend two years conducting checks and experiments. Throughout this time, OGS-1 and OGS-2 will act as “missions,” sending knowledge from one station to LCRD then right down to the opposite.

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LCRD speaking knowledge from the area station to Earth. Credit score: NASA/Dave Ryan

LCRD will take a look at laser performance with experiments from NASA, different authorities companies, academia, and industrial corporations. A few of these experiments embrace finding out atmospheric disturbances on laser alerts and demonstrating dependable relay service operations.

These checks will permit the aerospace neighborhood to be taught from LCRD and additional refine the know-how for future implementation. NASA is offering these alternatives to develop the physique of data surrounding laser communications and promote its operational use.

After its experimental section, LCRD will help in-space missions, together with an optical terminal that will likely be put in on the Worldwide Area Station. This terminal will acquire knowledge from science experiments onboard after which transmit the knowledge to LCRD to be relayed to Earth.

6. LCRD is one among many thrilling and upcoming laser missions.

LCRD is NASA’s first-ever laser communications relay system. Nevertheless, there are many missions in improvement that may display and take a look at further laser communications capabilities.

NASA’s Laser Communication Missions

NASA’s laser communication missions. Credit score: NASA/Dave Ryan

  • The Orion Artemis II Optical Communications System (O2O) terminal will allow an ultra-high-definition video feed over infrared mild between Earth and Artemis II astronauts journeying across the Moon.
  • In 2026, the Psyche mission will attain its vacation spot – an asteroid over 150 million miles away from Earth. Psyche will carry the Deep Space Optical Communication (DSOC) payload to check laser communications in opposition to the distinctive challenges offered by deep area exploration.

All of those missions will assist the aerospace neighborhood standardize laser communications for implementation on future missions. With lasers lighting the best way, NASA can glean extra data from area than ever earlier than.

LCRD is a NASA payload aboard the Division of Protection’s Area Check Program Satellite tv for pc-6 (STPSat-6). STPSat-6, a part of the Area Check Program 3 (STP-3) mission, will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Area Drive Station in Florida. STP is operated by the US Area Drive’s Area Programs Command.

LCRD is led by Goddard and in partnership with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. LCRD is funded by way of NASA’s Know-how Demonstration Missions program, a part of the Area Know-how Mission Directorate, and the Area Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program at NASA Headquarters.





NASA’s Revolutionary Laser Communications Mission: 6 Things You Need To Know Source link NASA’s Revolutionary Laser Communications Mission: 6 Things You Need To Know

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