NASA is preparing to test a new, laser-based communications system that will link up satellites in space with base stations on the ground, reports The Verge. It would provide speeds six times faster, say NASA officials.
The Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) would be integrated onto the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft. LADEE’s 100-day science mission is to determine the composition of the thin lunar atmosphere.
The LLCD mission will also serve as a pathfinder for the 2017 launch of NASA’s Laser Communication Relay Demonstration (LCRD).
That mission will demonstrate the long-term viability of laser communication from a geostationary relay satellite to Earth. Download speeds will top out at around 622Mbps, with uploads hovering around 20Mbps.
During Apollo program, NASA used a 180-foot diameter ground antennas to send and receive data during trips to the moon. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has a limit of 6Mbps, and takes approximately 90 minutes to transmit a single high-resolution image back to Earth.
The Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD), will demonstrate optical communication from lunar orbit using a ground receiver 39-inches in diameter. If it’s not raining or overcast. To maintain communications with LADEE, NASA will also be communicating with LADEE through its Lunar Lasercomm Ground Terminal in White Sands, NM and its Optical Comm Telescope lab in Wrightwood, CA.
Earth to space optical satellite communications has tempted the military. Ten years ago, the $15 billion Transformational Satellite Communications system (TSAT) was planned to have 10-gigabit-per-second laser cross links between satellites, and between satellites and high-altitude manned and unmanned aircraft. It never got off the ground and burned up billions in the process.
To fill the void left by T-Sat’s cancellation, the Air Force bought at least two additional Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites, which itself ballooned many billions over budget. It utilizes the EHF band rather than optical links.
The LADEE/LLCD spacecraft is scheduled to launch in September, and will be the first planetary mission to launch from the Wallops Flight Facility, located on Wallops Island, VA. Spaceflight Now will have live streaming coverage of the launch, scheduled for Sept. 6.
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