NASA to launch laser demo that could revolutionize space communication :: WRAL.com



– The use of invisible lasers in space may sound like science fiction, but it is very real.

NASA’s upcoming laser communications relay demonstration could revolutionize the way the agency communicates with future missions across the solar system.

These lasers could lead to more high-definition videos and photos from space than ever before, according to the agency.

The mission is expected to be launched as a payload aboard the US Department of Defense’s Space Test Program Satellite 6 on December 5 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The launch window will remain open from 4:04 a.m. to 6:04 a.m. ET, and the agency will share live coverage of the launch on NASA TV and its website.

Since 1958, NASA has used radio waves to communicate with its astronauts and space missions. While radio waves have been proven successful, space missions are becoming more complex and collecting more data than ever before.

Think of infrared lasers as the optical communications version of the high-speed Internet, as opposed to the frustratingly slow dial-up Internet. Laser communications will send data to Earth from an orbit synchronous with the Earth’s rotation, 22,000 miles (35,406 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface at 1.2 gigabits per second, this which is like downloading an entire movie in less than a minute.

It will improve data transmission rates 10 to 100 times better than radio waves. Infrared lasers, which are invisible to our eyes, have shorter wavelengths than radio waves, so they can transmit more data at a time.

Using the current radio wave system, it would take nine weeks to return a full map of Mars, but lasers could do it in nine days.

The Laser Communication Relay demonstration is NASA’s first end-to-end laser relay system that will send and receive data from space to two optical ground stations in Table Mountain, Calif., And Haleakalā, Hawaii. . These stations have telescopes capable of receiving laser light and translating it into digital data. Unlike radio antennas, laser communication receivers can be up to 44 times smaller. Because the satellite can both send and receive data, it is a true two-way system.

The only disturbance to these ground laser receivers are atmospheric disturbances, such as clouds and turbulence, which can interfere with laser signals traveling through our atmosphere. The remote locations of the two receivers were chosen with this in mind, as both generally have clear weather conditions at high altitudes.

Once the mission arrives in orbit, the team at the operations center in Las Cruces, New Mexico, will activate the laser communication relay demonstration and prepare it to send tests to ground stations.

The mission is expected to spend two years performing tests and experiments before it begins supporting space missions, including an optical terminal that will be installed on the International Space Station in the future. It will be able to send data from scientific experiments on the space station to the satellite, which will retransmit it to Earth.

The demonstration acts as a relay satellite, eliminating the need for future missions to have antennas with a direct line of sight to Earth. The satellite could help reduce the size, weight and communications power requirements on future spacecraft, although this mission is about the size of a king mattress.

This means that future missions could be cheaper to launch and have room for more scientific instruments.

Other missions currently in development that could test laser communication capabilities include the Orion Artemis II optical communications system, which will enable ultra-high definition video feed between NASA and Artemis astronauts venturing to the moon.

And the Psyche mission, which will launch in 2022, will reach its asteroid destination in 2026. The mission will study a metallic asteroid that is over 150 million miles (241 million kilometers) away and test its Deep Space Optical Communication laser. to return data. down to earth.

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