Feeds

NASA to trial laser-powered space broadband

Beaming probe data at 100Mbps

Top three mobile application threats

Impatient boffins will be able to download high resolution images and video from space probes in mere minutes if a newly approved NASA trial proves successful.

The space agency has rubber-stamped a trial of one of its projects - a laser-based communications system - which is theoretically capable of shifting up to 100Mb/s from spacecraft poking around the furthest corners of the solar system.

NASA's current space communications and data transfers are done on radio frequency (RF) systems. The RF systems' data transmission rates mean that it takes 90 minutes for a single high-resolution image to be beamed back to Earth from Mars. The new laser-based system would allow 100Mbps data rates instead of 6Mbps, allowing a image to be transmitted in five minutes.

"Just as the home internet user hit the wall with dial-up, NASA is approaching the limit of what its existing communications network can handle," said Dave Israel, who will lead the project.

The trial run of the new optical laser system, dubbed the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), will require a "payload" of telescopes, lasers, mirrors, detectors, a pointing-and-tracking system, control electronics, and two different types of modems to be bolted onto a commercial communications satellite. The specially equipped stations on the ground will test the transmission by encoding digital data and transmitting the information to the payload, which will then be relayed back to ground stations located in Southern California and Hawaii (as illustrated below).

lcrd conceptual_illustration nasa

A conceptual illustration of the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration. Photo credit: NASA

One of the modems bundled into the the payload is ideal for communicating with deep space missions, while the other supports a much higher bit-rate and can communicate with Earth-orbiting craft, including the International Space Station.

During the demonstration – expected to run for two to three years – streams from the two modems will be sent back to Earth by laser to the Southern California and Hawaii ground stations – weather, atmospheric conditions and cloud cover permitting. Israel said if crappy weather stopped effective communication with one location, the network could hand over the responsibility to one of the other ground stations.

It's one of three projects that NASA decided to fund on 23 September. The other two are an atomic clock in deep space and a solar sail. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Most Americans doubt Big Bang, not too sure about evolution, climate change – survey
Science no match for religion, politics, business interests
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
LOHAN and the amazing technicolor spaceplane
Our Vulture 2 livery is wrapped, and it's les noix du mutt
Liftoff! SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts Dragon on third resupply mission to ISS
SpaceX snaps smartly into one-second launch window
R.I.P. LADEE: Probe smashes into lunar surface at 3,600mph
Swan dive signs off successful science mission
Opportunity selfie: Martian winds have given the spunky ol' rover a spring cleaning
Power levels up 70 per cent as the rover keeps on truckin'
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Dragon capsule arrives at space station for Easter Sunday delivery
SpaceX reports Falcon booster made controlled touchdown in ocean
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.