NASA Upgrades Its Space Comm System

Last centuries tech gives way to laser communication

In an attempt to upgrade their space communication network, NASA and the ESA, have announced a mission to test its new Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) system.

In the last 50 plus years NASA and its international partners have created some of the most mind-bogglingly awesome missions and projects. From the International Space Station to the Viking missions breaching the edge of our solar system, the amazing feats that have been accomplished are some of humanities finest achievements. What makes them even more impressive is that many of NASAs missions are still rely on a century old technology, radio.

However, all of that might change depending on the success of the LLCD, a mission that will see ESA’s observatory in Spain attempt to make contact with NASA’s soon to be launched Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE).

According the ESA, “LADEE carries a terminal that can transmit and receive pulses of laser light. ESA’s Optical Ground Station on Tenerife will be upgraded with a complementary unit and, together with two US ground terminals, will relay data at unprecedented rates using infrared light beams at a wavelength similar to that used in fiber-optic cables on Earth.”

The ESA goes on to explain that both it and NASA believe near-infrared laser communication will be the future of interplanetary and space communications. In fact, NASA reports that, in comparison to current radio based comms systems, the new LLCD system represents a massive upgrade. “[U]sing S-band communications, the LADEE spacecraft would take 639 hours to download an average-length HD movie. Using LLCD technology, download times will be reduced to less than eight minutes.”

To maintain communications with LADEE, NASA will also be communicating with LADEE through its Lunar Lasercomm Ground Terminal in White Sands, NM and its Optical Comm Telescope lab in Wrightwood, CA.

If successful the LLCD could provide the framework for a new space-based communication system, effectively setting up a precursor to an interplanetary internet.

Watch an Animation of the LADEE Craft

Images and Video Courtesy of NASA & ESA