NASA announced on October 22, 2013 that a laser communications device called Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD), currently on board the LADEE satellite orbiting the moon, has achieved a record download rate of 622 megabits per second.
Hitherto NASA and other space agencies have used radios to communicate with spacecraft. However the demand for more and more data transmission have almost exceeded the limit for radio communications, hence the experiment with the laser communications device, which will enable such things as transmission of 3D video and greatly enhanced images from space.
The LADEE, while it carries the LLCD, is orbiting the moon to study its very thin atmosphere and lunar dust.
“LLCD is hosted aboard NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), launched in September from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. LADEE is a 100-day robotic mission operated by the agency's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. LADEE's mission is to provide data that will help NASA determine whether dust caused the mysterious glow astronauts observed on the lunar horizon during several Apollo missions. It also will explore the moon's atmosphere. Ames designed, developed, built, integrated and tested LADEE, and manages overall operations of the spacecraft. NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington funds the LADEE mission.
“The LLCD system, flight terminal and primary ground terminal at NASA's White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, N.M., were developed by the Lincoln Laboratory at MIT. The Table Mountain Optical Communications Technology Laboratory operated by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is participating in the demonstration. A third ground station operated by the European Space Agency on Tenerife in the Canary Islands also will be participating in the demonstration.”
This is no word yet when a laser communicator like the LLCD will be carried aboard a NASA space probe next.