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NASA/MIT announces success of laser broadband space communications system

LADEE orbiting the moon
LADEE orbiting the moon
NASA (public domain)

According to a Monday story in Think Digit, NASA, in conjunction with MIT, has developed a way for future lunar explorers and colonist to access the Internet via broadband. Incidentally the technology, which involves using a laser, will allow rapid transmission of data to and from the lunar surface. This is a capability that many people on Earth do not have as of yet. On the other hand, like many technologies developed for the space program, the new laser broadband likely has some Earthly spinoffs in store.

The Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration, as it was called, was tested recently as part of NASA’s LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) that recently completed its mission in lunar orbit. The experiment demonstrated the capacity to upload data to the satellite across the distance between Earth and the moon at 20 Mbps and download speeds at 622 Mbps. This is not quite fast enough to run a real time shooter game, but certainly enough to transmit high definition video.

The system was also demonstrated to be capable of shifting from one ground station to another, much like a cell phone shifts from on cell tower to another. Also the LADEE was able to orient itself to receive the laser signal without having been ordered to do so via radio command. It was able to point and connect to a ground station automatically.

NASA envisions having this kind of communications system on its future space mission, not just to the moon, but to other destinations. Even before future lunar colonists pass the time after a hard shift of mining helium 3 relax by surfing the net, the laser communications set up will transmit data, images, and video from every place that NASA sends explorers, whether they are human or robotic. It will revolutionize how the space agency communicates across the Solar System in years to come.