NASA has recently made history in space communication – a record breaking data transmission rate of 622 Mbps between earth and NASA’s ‘Lunar Atmosphere And Dust Environment Explorer’ (LADEE), NASA’s space craft orbiting the moon across a distance of 238,855 miles (384,000 Km).
This feat was achieved using a pulsed laser technology instead of the conventional radio signals. This experiment, known as LLCD (Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration) in NASA’s parlance, was carried out using MIT’s brewed technology which includes the LLCD system, flight terminal and the primary ground terminal.
LLCD Is a short duration precursor to NASA’s LCRD, the Laser Communication Relay Demonstration. LCRD is a part of the agency’s Long Term Technology Demonstration Missions Program which is underway to develop cross cutting, space capable technology to launch in 2017.
LLCD is hosted aboard LADEE. A ground station in New Mexico sent a laser to LADEE. LLCD responded back through its 4 inch diameter, 0.5 Watt beam to the receiver in New Mexico.
This technology is expected to help space communication with high fidelity and speeds many times over the conventional RF communication. For example, conventional S-band radio aboard LADEE would take 639 hours to downlink the average HD movie. The same job can be done, using lasers, in less than eight minutes!
This speed gain is comparable to switching from a dial-up modem to a fiber optic line.
This technology will enable video and high-resolution data from spacecraft over planets across the solar system be communicated to scientists on earth stations efficiently. Researchers can then make detailed studies of conditions on other planets the way they now track hurricanes and other environmental changes on earth.