laser communications (NASA)

NASA preps for space-based communications via lasers

The technology that science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke envisioned in the mid-twentieth century has moved beyond theory and into real-life field testing.

NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration relay satellite “encodes data onto a beam of light” and transmits data anywhere from 10 times to 100 times faster than radio-based space communications.

"LCRD is the next step in implementing NASA's vision of using optical communications for both near-Earth and deep space missions," Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s LCRD project lead, said in a statement. It has “potential to revolutionize space communications.”

The segment of LCDR that will be launched into space is currently under development at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Ground station receivers will be placed in Hawaii and California.

"LCRD … will allow NASA to learn how to optimally use this disruptive new technology," said Don Cornwell of the Space Communications and Navigation program office at NASA. "We are also designing a laser terminal for the International Space Station that will use LCRD to relay data from the station to the ground at gigabit-per-second data rates,” he said.

NASA plans to fly the ISS-based terminal in 2021, and once tested, Cornwell said, “we hope that many other Earth-orbiting NASA missions will also fly copies of it to relay their data through LCRD to the ground."

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a reporter/producer at GCN.

Before joining GCN, Leonard worked as a local reporter for The Smithfield Times in southeastern Virginia. In his time there he wrote about town council meetings, local crime and what to do if a beaver dam floods your back yard. Over the last few years, he has spent time at The Commonwealth Times, The Denver Post and WTVR-CBS 6. He is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, where he received the faculty award for print and online journalism.

Leonard can be contacted at mleonard@gcn.com or follow him on Twitter @Matt_Lnrd.

Click here for previous articles by Leonard.


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