October 29, 2013
NASA’s Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) uses a pulsed laser beam to transmit data from Earth to the moon. The record-setting laser recently made history by sending data 239,000 miles at a download speed of 622 megabits per second (Mbps). Radio frequency has been the main method of communication, but does not have the data capacity and speed of laser. If the laser program is successful, NASA plans to use it on future missions.
“LLCD is NASA’s first system for two-way communication using a laser instead of radio waves,” explains a NASA news release. “It also has demonstrated an error-free data upload rate of 20 Mbps transmitted from the primary ground station in New Mexico to the spacecraft currently orbiting the moon.”
“LLCD is the first step on our roadmap toward building the next generation of space communication capability,” said Badri Younes, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation. “We are encouraged by the results of the demonstration to this point, and we are confident we are on the right path to introduce this new capability into operational service soon.”
NASA has relied on radio frequency (RF) communications from the beginning of space travel. But RF is approaching its limit as there are more demands for increased data capacity. The development and use of laser communications will allow NASA to use advanced information transmissions that include high-resolution images and 3D video from deep space.
“The goal of LLCD is to validate and build confidence in this technology so that future missions will consider using it,” said Don Cornwell, LLCD manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “This unique ability developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory has incredible application possibilities.”
The LLCD is one experiment of a larger project, NASA’s Laser Communication Relay Demonstration, which is part of the agency’s Technology Demonstration Missions Program. The program is looking to create technology that is able to operate in space by 2017.
The LLCD system is aboard NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) craft that was launched in September for a 100-day mission. LADEE is to provide information on lunar dust and the moon’s atmosphere.