NASA has resumed preparations for the launch of its Laser Communication Relay Demonstration Mission (LCRD) which will use laser communication systems to transmit data from space to Earth. The mission resumed after more than two years of delay and is now expected to be launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral space station in Florida, according to Espace.com. Until now, NASA has used radio frequency systems to communicate with astronauts and spacecraft, however, the accumulation of data is prompting the agency to adopt a more efficient and faster means of communication.
LCRD will allow data transfer at 1.2 Gbps
With the LCRD satellite, scientists will harness the power of laser communications, which use infrared light rather than radio waves, to encode and transmit information to and from Earth. Although radio waves and infrared laser light waves are both forms of electromagnetic radiation, the latter is very beneficial because it occurs at a much higher frequency, allowing engineers to pack more data into each transmission. NASA says that using infrared lasers, LCRD will send data to Earth from geosynchronous orbit at 1.2 gigabits per second (Gbps), which is enough to download a full movie in under a minute. .
Explaining more of the advantages of lasers over radio waves, the agency revealed that the spacecraft will be able to return more data at a time with a single download. It is this advantage of laser communications, whereby space industries are creating more missions that use lasers to supplement radio frequency satellites. Commenting on its very first laser communication system, NASA said, “LCRD is a relay satellite with many highly sensitive components that provide enhanced communications. As a relay, LCRD eliminates the need for user missions to have a direct line of sight to the antennas. on earth”.
The satellite will relay the data to two of its ground stations located in California and Hawaii, each equipped with telescopes to receive the light and modems to translate the coded light into digital data. Space.com reports that the demonstration will travel a maximum distance of 35,786 kilometers, to geosynchronous orbit and will be tested for at least two years.