NASA is to launch a mission to test a laser that could revolutionise space communication by transmitting data to Earth up to 100 times faster than current technology allows.
This Sunday, December 5, NASA will launch a mission that aims to revolutionise space communication. It will test the use of laser technology instead of the usual radio frequency systems with the objective of transmitting data between 10 to 100 times faster than on Earth.
The experiment is called the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), and will involve using infrared lasers to send data to Earth at 1.2 gigabits per second (Gbps) from a geosynchronous orbit 35,000 km away.
At such speed and distance, a film could be downloaded in less than a minute, and whereas radio waves can retransmit 10 photos per minute, laser technology could retransmit 100. This increased capacity is fundamental for future space exploration missions to the Moon, Mars or beyond.
“With current technology, if we wanted to make a map of the planet Mars and transmit it from point A to point B, we would take up to three months. With laser technology, we could pass all that information in less than a week,” states Christian Rivera, a software developer at NASA.
It is not just a matter of speed. Image quality will also be significantly improved when compared to our home internet connections.
Once the LCRD receives and codifies information, it sends the data to two stations on Earth, located on Table Mountain, southern California, and Haleakala, Hawaii. These locations were selected for their clear climatic conditions and high altitude.
Rivera went on to explain that the new laser technology would not be a substitute for the use of radiofrequency on Earth, where atmospheric disturbances such as clouds and turbulence can interfere with laser signals as they travel through the Earth’s atmosphere. However, when it comes to greater distances, such as between the Earth and Mars, there are not many obstacles and radiofrequency would need much more power than laser to transmit the same amount of information.
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