April 19, 2024

NASA’s Revolutionary Laser Communications Mission: 6 Things You Need To Know

LCRD will continue NASAs exploration of laser communications to support future missions to the Moon and beyond. LCRDs modems translate digital data into laser signals, which are then transmitted through encoded beams of light, invisible to the human eye, by the relays optical modules. LCRD can both send and receive data, developing a constant path for streaming objective data to-and-from area. LCRD is a NASA payload aboard the Department of Defenses Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6).

Illustration of NASAs Laser Communications Relay Demonstration interacting with the International Space Station over laser links. Credit: NASAs Goddard Space Flight
NASAs Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) will utilize laser communications systems to send data from space to Earth. Below are six things you need to understand about NASAs revolutionary LCRD objective.
1. Laser interactions will transform how NASA gets info to and from area.
Since the dawn of area expedition, NASA has actually used radio frequency systems to communicate with astronauts and spacecraft. As space missions produce and collect more information, the requirement for enhanced interactions capabilities increases. LCRD leverages the power of laser interactions, which utilizes infrared light instead of radio waves, to encode and send information to and from Earth.

LCRD leverages the power of laser communications, which utilizes infrared light rather than radio waves, to encode and send information to and from Earth.

The Orion Artemis II Optical Communications System (O2O) terminal will allow an ultra-high-definition video feed over infrared light between Earth and Artemis II astronauts journeying around the Moon.
In 2026, the Psyche mission will reach its destination– an asteroid over 150 million miles far from Earth. Mind will carry the Deep Space Optical Communication (DSOC) payload to test laser interactions against the distinct obstacles presented by deep area expedition.

All of these objectives will help the aerospace neighborhood standardize laser communications for execution on future objectives. With lasers lighting the way, NASA can glean more details from area than ever previously.
LCRD is a NASA payload aboard the Department of Defenses Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6). STPSat-6, part of the Space Test Program 3 (STP-3) objective, will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. STP is operated by the United States Space Forces Space Systems Command.
LCRD is led by Goddard and in partnership with NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. LCRD is moneyed through NASAs Technology Demonstration Missions program, part of the Space Technology Mission Directorate, and the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program at NASA Headquarters.

Both radio waves and laser infrared light waves are kinds of electro-magnetic radiation with wavelengths at different points on the spectrum. Missions encode their scientific data onto the electro-magnetic signals to send out back to Earth.
The infrared light used for laser interactions differs from radio waves due to the fact that it takes place at a much greater frequency, allowing engineers to pack more information into each transmission. Once, more data yields more details and discoveries about space at.
Utilizing infrared lasers, LCRD will send out information to Earth from geosynchronous orbit at 1.2 gigabits-per-second (Gbps). At this speed and range, you might download a film in under a minute.
LCRD will fly as a hosted payload aboard a Department of Defense spacecraft as part of the Space Test Program (STP-3) objective. LCRD will continue NASAs exploration of laser communications to support future objectives to the Moon and beyond. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
2. Laser interactions will let spacecraft send out home more information in a single downlink.
If you were alive in the early 90s and late 80s, youll keep in mind the dial-up speeds of the terrestrial internet– slow and agonizing. The addition of laser communications to spacecraft resembles mankinds usage of high-speed web with technologies like fiber optic networking: revolutionary.
Radio waves versus optical waves. Credit: NASA
Our home web connections these days enable high-definition videos, programs, and content to reach our screens nearly immediately. This is, in part, due to the fiber optic connections sending laser light largely loaded with data through plastic or glass cable televisions, producing a much faster user experience.
This exact same principle– minus the fiber cable televisions– is used to space-based laser communications, which allows spacecraft to send out high-resolution images and videos over laser links.
With laser interactions in location, spacecraft can send out back more data simultaneously in a single download. NASA and the aerospace industry are taking benefit of these new advancements and producing more objectives that utilize lasers to complement radio frequency satellites.
3. The payload has 2 optical modules, or telescopes, for getting and sending laser signals.
LCRD is a relay satellite with many highly sensitive parts that provide increased interactions. As a relay, LCRD gets rid of the need for user objectives to have direct line-of-sight to antennas in the world. LCRD has 2 optical terminals– one terminal receives data from a user spacecraft, while the other transmits information to ground stations in the world.
The LCRD payload in the cleanroom at Goddard Space Flight. Credit: NASA/Dave Ryan
LCRDs modems translate digital information into laser signals, which are then sent via encoded beams, undetectable to the human eye, by the relays optical modules. LCRD can both send out and receive information, producing a continuous path for flowing objective information to-and-from area. Together, these abilities make LCRD NASAs first two-way, end-to-end optical relay.
These are just some of the parts that make up the LCRD payload, which entirely is the size of a king mattress.
4. LCRD depends on two ground stations in California and Hawaii.
Once LCRD receives info and encodes it, the payload sends out the data to ground stations on Earth that are each equipped with telescopes to get the light and modems to equate the encoded light back into digital information.
LCRDs ground stations are called Optical Ground Stations (OGS) -1 and -2, and are located on Table Mountain in Southern California, and on Haleakala Volcano in Maui, Hawaii.
While laser interactions can provide increased information transfer rates, climatic disruptions– such as clouds and turbulence– can disrupt laser signals as they travel through Earths atmosphere.
The places for OGS-1 and OSG-2 were picked for their clear weather and remote, high-altitude areas. Most of the weather condition occurring in those locations occurs listed below the summit of the mountains, leaving fairly clear skies perfect for laser interactions.
5. LCRD permits federal government, academic community, and industrial partners to evaluate laser abilities from geosynchronous orbit.
LCRD will show the viability of laser interactions systems from geosynchronous orbit– about 22,000 miles above Earths surface.
Prior to supporting other missions, LCRD will spend two years performing experiments and tests. Throughout this time, ogs-2 and ogs-1 will act as “missions,” sending data from one station to LCRD then down to the other.
LCRD communicating information from the spaceport station to Earth. Credit: NASA/Dave Ryan
LCRD will test laser functionality with experiments from NASA, other government agencies, academic community, and commercial companies. Some of these experiments include studying climatic disruptions on laser signals and demonstrating trustworthy relay service operations.
These tests will allow the aerospace neighborhood to learn from LCRD and more fine-tune the innovation for future application. NASA is offering these chances to grow the body of understanding surrounding laser interactions and promote its operational use.
After its speculative phase, LCRD will support in-space objectives, including an optical terminal that will be installed on the International Space Station. This terminal will gather data from science experiments onboard and then transfer the details to LCRD to be passed on to Earth.
6. LCRD is one of numerous interesting and upcoming laser missions.
LCRD is NASAs first-ever laser communications relay system. Nevertheless, there are numerous missions in advancement that will show and evaluate additional laser communications abilities.
NASAs laser communication missions. Credit: NASA/Dave Ryan