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NASA is about to launch a laser demo that could revolutionize space communication


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

According to the agency, these lasers can produce more high-definition videos and photos than ever before.

The mission is set to launch aboard the US Department of Defense’s Space Test Program 6 satellite carrier 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 information about the launch on NASA TV and website.

Since 1958, NASA has used radio waves to communicate with its astronauts and space missions. While radio waves have a proven track record, space missions are becoming more complex and data-intensive than before.

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

This will improve data transmission rates 10 to 100 times better than radio waves. Infrared lasers, invisible to the naked eye, have shorter wavelengths than radio waves, so they can transmit more data at once.

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Using the current radio wave system, it would take nine weeks to send back a complete map of Mars – but the laser 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, California and Haleakalā, Hawaii. These stations have telescopes that can receive light from a laser and convert it into digital data. Unlike radio antennas, laser communication receivers can be up to 44 times smaller. Because the satellite can send and receive data, it is a true two-way system.

Disruption for these terrestrial laser receivers are atmospheric disturbances, such as clouds and turbulence, that can interfere with laser signals traveling through our atmosphere. The remote locations for the two receivers were chosen with this in mind as both often have clear weather conditions at high altitudes.

Once the mission reaches orbit, the team at the operations center in Las Cruces, New Mexico, will activate the Laser Relay Demonstration and prepare to send the test to ground stations.

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The mission is expected to spend two years conducting inspections and tests before starting to support space missions, including an optical terminal that will be installed on the Space Station. International in the future. It will be able to send data from scientific experiments on the space station to satellites, which will transmit them back to Earth.

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

This means that future missions could be less expensive to launch and there will be more room for scientific instruments.

Other missions currently in development that could test laser communications include the Orion Artemis II Optical Communication System, which provides an ultra-high-definition video feed between NASA and the astronauts. The Artemis family is on an adventure to the moon.

And the Psyche mission, launching in 2022, will reach its asteroid destination in 2026. The mission will study a metal asteroid more than 150 million miles (241 million km) across. go and test its Deep Space Optical Communication laser to send data back to Earth.

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