On October 18, 2013, NASA demonstrated the possibilities of long-range laser communications with its Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD), which transmitted data from lunar orbit to the Earth at a rate of 622 Mbps. That speed is easily more than six times faster the most advanced radio communication systems tested.
The Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD)
The LLCD is NASA's first communication system designed for two-way communication using lasers instead of radio waves. Not only did the new system demonstrate a transmission speed of 622 Mbps, but the system also provided an error-free data upload rate of 20 Mbps transmitted from the New Mexico primary ground station to the lunar orbiting satellite.
"LLCD is the first step on our roadmap toward building the next generation of space communication capability," said Badri Younes, NASA's deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation in Washington. "We are encouraged by the results of the demonstration to this point, and we are confident we are on the right path to introduce this new capability into operational service soon."
"The goal of LLCD is to validate and build confidence in this technology so that future missions will consider using it," said Don Cornwell, LLCD manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "This unique ability developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory has incredible application possibilities."
The LLCD is only a demonstration experiment, designed for a short-duration, and is the precursor to NASA's more substantial demonstration project, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD). Scheduled to launch in 2017, the LCRD is part of NASA's Technology Demonstration Missions Program, which is working to develop new technologies capable of operating in the harsh environment of space.
The LLCD is being flown aboard the lunar-orbiting Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) satellite. The LADEE mission is a 100-day robotic program designed, built, tested and operated by a team of NASA scientists from the Ames Research Center. The LADEE mission is to investigate the atmosphere of the moon.
Benefits Of Laser Communication
While the LLCD is nothing more than a short-duration experiment that demonstrates the capabilities and effectiveness of laser communication systems, the possible applications of such as system are the driving force behind its development.
In the short-term, laser communication systems on satellites may provide enough high-speed data transfer to enable scientists to view experiments and data gathering on moons and planets in our solar system in real time. Experiments, like the Mars rover, which is hampered by the slow data transfer rates of current technology radio communications could provide the ability to maneuver on Mars' surface more quickly.
In the long-term, high-transfer rate laser communication could enhance line-of-site communication with orbiting satellites, which could increase the rate and amount of data transmitted on Earth. The possibility of point-to-point wireless communication at very high rates could be available at any point on the planet. The possibilities are endless.