February 29, 2024

NASA’s Laser Communication Relay Demonstration: Getting Space Data to the Ground With Lasers

LCRDs ground stations, understood as Optical Ground Station (OGS) -1 and -2, are located on Table Mountain, California, and Haleakalā, Hawaii. While OGS-2 was developed particularly for the LCRD mission, OGS-1 is based at JPLs Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory, which prior to LCRD was used for previous laser communications demonstrations. LCRD is a hosted payload on the Department of Defenses Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6). LCRDs ground segment will be important to the success of the mission, supplying engineers with the chance to test and refine laser interactions. In turn, LCRD will usher in a brand-new period of laser interactions, where objectives will have extraordinary access to insights obtained from satellites and probes in area.

By Matthew D. Peters, NASAs Goddard Space Flight
December 5, 2021

LCRDs ground stations, Optical Ground Station -1 and -2, will enable mission success. Credit: NASAs Goddard Space Flight.
” The method the regional meteorology works, there is very little dust and less atmospheric turbulence at the top of the mountain, which is fantastic for laser communications,” said Ron Miller from NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and former development lead for OGS-2 in Hawaii. “Its about 10,000 feet up, so youre above a lot of the environment and weather condition that takes place listed below the top. Its very common to have a good bright day on top and be cloudy around the midpoint of the mountain.”.
Because their weather condition patterns typically complement each other, NASA interactions engineers chosen these websites. When OGS-1 in California is cloudy, OGS-2 in Hawaii tends to be clear– and vice versa. To monitor cloud protection and figure out which station is to be used, commercial partner Northrop Grumman offered an atmospheric tracking station that observes weather conditions at Haleakalā. This tracking station runs nearly autonomously, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. OGS-1 has comparable weather condition tracking abilities at Table Mountain.
Despite the normally clear weather at these places, NASA engineers must still work to decrease the impacts of atmospheric turbulence on the data gotten by OGS-1 and OGS-2. To do this, both stations leverage the power of adaptive optics.
NASAs Laser Communication Relay Demonstrations (LCRD) Optical Ground Station 2 (OGS-2) in Haleakalā, Hawaii. Credit: NASAs Goddard Space Flight.
” An adaptive optics system utilizes a sensing unit to measure the distortion to the electro-magnetic signal thats coming down from the spacecraft,” stated Tom Roberts, the supervisor of OGS-1 advancement and operations at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “If we can measure that distortion, then we can send it through a deformable mirror that alters its shape to take out those aberrations that the environment induces. That permits us to have a great, beautiful signal.”.
While OGS-2 was developed specifically for the LCRD objective, OGS-1 is based at JPLs Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory, which prior to LCRD was used for previous laser communications presentations. To get OGS-1 all set for LCRD support, engineers needed to update the ground station, customizing the system to bring it up to a greater requirement. One such upgrade included changing the mirrors to have better reflectivity and greater laser thresholds so that the telescope can get and send out laser signals to and from LCRD.
Prior to objective support, LCRD will spend about two years conducting experiments and tests. Throughout this time, ogs-2 and ogs-1 will serve as simulated users, sending data from one station to LCRD then down to the next. These tests will allow the aerospace community to gain from LCRD, and even more improve the innovation for future implementation of laser communications systems.
After the speculative stage, LCRD will support in-space missions. Missions, like a terminal on the International Space Station, will send out information to LCRD, which will then beam it to OGS-1 or OGS-2.
LCRD is a hosted payload on the Department of Defenses Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6). While LCRD is a laser communications payload, the spacecraft will still have a radio frequency connection to the ground. The Payload to Ground Link Terminal (PGLT) situated at the White Sands Complex near Las Cruces, New Mexico, will interact tracking, telemetry, and command data to the spacecraft over radio waves.
NASA manages LCRDs ground aspects– OGS-1, OGS-2, and PGLT– out of LCRDs mission operations center at White Sands.
” The mission operations center is the central brains of the LCRD system,” stated Miriam Wennersten, LCRDs ground segment supervisor of Goddard. “It coordinates the setup of the payload and all 3 ground stations at the same time, arranging the various optical services and links.”.
Without ground infrastructure, amazing science and expedition information would not make it to researchers in the world. LCRDs ground section will be vital to the success of the mission, offering engineers with the opportunity to test and improve laser interactions. In turn, LCRD will usher in a new period of laser interactions, where objectives will have unmatched access to insights obtained from satellites and probes in area.
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 no earlier than December 6, 2021. STP is managed by the United States Space Forces Space Systems Command..
LCRD is led by Goddard and in partnership with JPL 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 in Washington, D.C. Goddard manages OGS-2, while JPL manages OGS-1.

LCRD will relay data between the International Space Station and the ground. Credit: NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab
Communications infrastructure in space and on the ground makes it possible for the data collected by these missions to reach Earth. Without ground stations to get it, the extraordinary information recorded by these missions would be stuck in area, not able to reach scientists and researchers on Earth.
Since the dawn of space expedition, NASA missions have mostly counted on radio frequency interactions for this transfer of info. This fall, NASAs Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) will launch and showcase laser interactions– an innovative way of communicating information from area to the ground.
LCRDs ground stations, called Optical Ground Station (OGS) -1 and -2, lie on Table Mountain, California, and Haleakalā, Hawaii. These remote, high-altitude places were picked for their clear climate condition. While laser interactions can supply increased data transfer rates, atmospheric disturbances– such as clouds and turbulence– can disrupt laser signals as they get in Earths atmosphere.