Here comes the point where higher data-rate RF system no longer capable to handle the data volume from the  spacecraft technology that getting more and more advanced. In order to overcome this issue, NASA has turned the focus to optical communication technology that utilize lasers to increase overall data rates by 10 to 100 times faster over existing RF system.

Current radio-based network that help to relay data for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) only capable of 6 Mbps speed, it takes about 90 minutes to transmit a single HiRISE high-resolution image from Mars back to earth, and that’s way too slow.


The good new is, the new optical communications system that uses laser technology would help to greatly reduce the transmission time down to a mere five minutes for receiving a HiRISE high-resolution image from Mars back to earh, while the NASA’s experts confidence that the new optical communications system will even allow NASA to stream HD video from distances beyond the moon.

The new optical communications system will encode digital data and transmit the information through the laser light from a special equipped ground stations to the experimental payload onto a commercial communication satellite and in return, the satellite will become the relaying point that send data back to ground stations on earth.

A team at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland is planning to test ground stations that are scheduled to operate in Hawaii and Southern California.


Why Need Multiple Ground Stations?

Multiple ground stations are considered important, since optical system demand a clear line of sight between the transmitter and receiver. In case bad weather in Hawaii and prevents a signal being received and sent from one location, the ground station at Southern California will be able to cover the problem and continue to send/receive with transmission signals.

According to NASA laser-based space communications will be able to support ‘galatic’ missions with bandwidth-hungry instruments, including the synthetic aperture radar, hyperspectral imagers and other devices that requires high definition in temporal, spatial or spectral modes. Moreover, it will be possible to establish a virtual presence at a remote planet or other solar system body using laser communication.

Laser Communications Relay Demonstration

The Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), which is scheduled for demonstration by NASA starting in 2016 and is expected to run two to three years and is designed to enable NASA, other governmental agencies and the commercial space industry to carry out complex missions while providing higher data rates at approximately similar mass, power, and volume to current RF system.

[ Source: Gizmag ; eScience News ; NASA ]