NASA Revolutionises Space Communications with Lasers

Science, technology and engineering are only advancing as we speak and it is high time our design of space communication catches up too.

Since the dawn of human space ventures, we have used radio frequency as the medium for communication in space, and successfully so. But with the ever-increasing space missions and the plethora of complex space data being collected today, it becomes imperative that our communications systems are up to par as well.

As such, NASA takes on the challenge of employing optical communications in enhancing the communication between Earth and space. Their Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) will showcase the unique capacity and unparalleled benefits of using laser communications systems in space missions.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launches with NASA’s LCRD Mission on Dec 7, 2021 (Source: NASA)

Having launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on December 7, 2021, the LCRD payload will make its way to its orbit. From there, it will exhibit NASA’s pioneer two-way laser relay communications system between our planet and outer space by employing infrared lasers to transmit data. If the usage of radio frequency to relay information has been successful thus far, you may wonder why the switch to laser.

Artist impression of NASA’s LCRD taking place between space and Earth (Source: NASA)

Do you remember using the painfully sluggish dial-up Internet once upon a time and the fascinating difference we felt when we changed to high-speed Internet? Well, the difference between using radio frequency and laser for communication is not much different. The change is the speed and volume of data being transferred is significant. LCRD will allow us to experience the transmission of information at speeds 10 to 100 times greater than radio frequency systems, or 1.2 gigabits per second, from geosynchronous orbit to Earth.

For the first two years, LCRD will be focused on conducting experiments not just from NASA, but from commercial establishments and academia as well, to prove and solidify the reliability of incorporating laser technology in space communications. The test missions aim to open the aerospace community to this revolutionary development and to make way for implementation of laser communications relay systems in future missions.

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