NASA will use laser technology for its space transmissions: they will be up to 100 times faster than today

Space missions are not only more and more frequent: they generate data that must be collected and that is no longer just text, but can also be images and even 4K videos. To make these data transmissions more effective, NASA is preparing the deployment of the new Laser Communications Relay Demonstrations (LCRD) system.

This type of technology will replace the radio communications that had been used since the 1950s in these missions. While with current technology it would take about nine weeks to send a complete map of Mars to Earth, with LCRD it will reduce that time to nine days.

Spatial broadband

In fact, NASA indicates that this new communication technology will allow data transmissions with the Earth that will be between 10 and 100 times faster.

NASA Spatial Broadband
Spatial Broadband

This communication not only offers more bandwidth: it requires less volume, weight and energy in space missions that will thus gain space for more scientific instruments and that will be more efficient in terms of energy consumption.

Unlike communications with infrared light that were used until now, its waves are “much narrower”, which means that with the laser, ground stations can receive more data at the same time. The laser is not necessarily faster, but more data can be transmitted in a single downlink, they explain at NASA.

The LCRD satellites will be placed in a geosynchronous orbit 35,400 km from Earth, and during the first two years various tests will be carried out to verify their operation. The first “space” use of LCRD is expected to occur in 2022 using a component called the Integrated LCRD Low-Earth Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal (ILLUMA-T), which is on the International Space Station.

It is expected that data can be received and transmitted at 1.2 Gbps in those tests, and the entire deployment follows in the footsteps of the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration, the mission that in 2013 allowed data to be transmitted from the Moon at speeds of up to 622 Mbps.

More information | NASA

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