Space laser sets data download record

NASA said the laser communications system on its newest lunar probe has set a solar record for the fastest data download rate between the Earth and the moon.

The space agency’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) now in lunar orbit is carrying a Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration that aims to speed two-way communications across the 239,000 miles that separate the Earth from the moon.

Mission managers at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center announced on Oct. 22 that the laser demonstrator achieved a record-setting download rate of 622 megabits per second. The system uses laser pulses rather than radio waves to transmit data. NASA officials added that the system has also demonstrated an error-free upload rate of 20 megabits per second.

By contrast, radio-frequency voice communications between Earth and the Apollo astronauts in the late 1960s and early 1970s usually took between 2 to 3 seconds.

NASA officials said LADEE’s laser communications system represents the first step toward building future space communication networks. The successful demonstration will be followed by a more ambitious experiment called the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration scheduled for 2017. The experiment will attempt to demonstration that two-way laser communications can operate in the vacuum of space.

If successful, NASA said the new laser communications system could deliver new capabilities like increased image resolution and 3-D video transmissions from deep space.

The U.S. military is watching the NASA laser communications experiment closely as it looks for ways to increase network bandwidth as it adds new capabilities.

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