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Laser Communication Payload Testing At NASA

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Scientists from NASA are working on a method to transition from radio to laser communications. Known as the Laser Communications Relay Demonstrastion (LCRD) mission, researchers believe that this transition will drastically improve how we communicate with astronauts and spacecraft. Testing is well underway at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

“LCRD is a big step in the evolution of space communications. LCRD will demonstrate how laser communications technologies can be applied to significantly enhance the capabilities of NASA’s communications infrastructure.”

Dave Israel, LCRD's principal investigator
, located in Greenbelt, Maryland.

NASA has relied exclusively on radio communications for a very long time. But all that is about to change, thanks to some cutting-edge technology that uses lasers instead of traditional radio communications. This hybrid combines the two technologies, resulting in a revolutionary combination of lasers and radio that will change the face of NASA’s communication systems.

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There are a lot of advantages to switching over to laser communication. NASA believes that laser communications could have up to 100 times better data rates than radio. This is due in large part to the higher bandwidth afforded to lasers. Also, laser communications systems are notably smaller than their radio counterparts; they take up significantly less area and weight, while providing data rates as good or better than radio.

The LCRD mission will focus on the relay of data via lasers. It will determine the advantages and viability of such a communication system, and set the groundwork for future networks. Testing and integration of the system is already well underway at Goddard Space Flight Center, and scientists are excited about the data this mission will provide.

Once testing is complete, LCRD technologies will be used in two upcoming NASA missions. These are the integrated LCRD Low-Earth Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal (ILLUMA-T) as well as the Optical-to-Orion (O2O) project.

ILLUMA-T is scheduled to fly to the International Space Station. It will provide the first demonstration of a fully-operational end-to-end laser communications system. ILLUMA-T will also give the International Space Station a cutting-edge communications terminal that has dramatically improved data rates, size, weight and power as opposed to current radio systems.

O2O will fly aboard the Orion spacecraft. It will go with astronauts, who will be able to use the laser communications to video conference with Earth. They will also be able to stream high-definition videos of their missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

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