NASA moves ahead with mission to build high-speed space internet
The mission, known as Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) and scheduled for launch in summer 2019, "recently successfully passed a key decision point review and has moved on to the integration and test stage of development," NASA said.
Laser communications, also known as optical communications, encodes data onto a beam of light, which is then transmitted between spacecraft and eventually to Earth terminals.
NASA said this technology offers data rates that are 10 to 100 times better than current radio-frequency communications systems.
Additionally, laser communication systems can be much smaller than radio systems.
NASA will build two ground stations, one in Table Mountain, California, and another in Hawaii, to demonstrate communications capability to and from LCRD, which will be located in an orbit that matches Earth's rotation, called a geosynchronous orbit.
The mission built on the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD), a device that flew aboard the Lunar Atmosphere Dust and Environment Explorer in 2013.
While LLCD was first to demonstrate high-data-rate laser communications beyond low-Earth orbit, LCRD will demonstrate the technology's operational longevity and reliability, NASA said.
"LCRD is designed to operate for many years and will allow NASA to learn how to optimally use this disruptive new technology," said Don Cornwell, director of NASA's Advanced Communication and Navigation division of the Space Communications and Navigation program office, which led the development of the instrument.
The NASA team is 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.
"We plan to fly this new terminal in 2021," Cornwell said. "Once tested, we hope that many other Earth-orbiting NASA missions will also fly copies of it to relay their data through LCRD to the ground." ■