WASHINGTON -- A NASA laser communications demonstration that succeeded in transmitting high-rate data to the moon and back has laid the groundwork for an even more ambitious relay demonstration scheduled for as early as 2017. If successful, a future optical relay network could serve as the basis for an interplanetary Internet with as much as 100 times higher data rates than conventional communication satellites with the same mass and power, NASA claims.
The Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) carried aboard a NASA lunar orbiter successfully transmitted data at a record rate of 622 megabits per second on October 17, 2013. The optical system delivered six times the bandwidth of standard radio-frequency communications networks now used for space communications. The two-way optical system also demonstrated an error-free upload rate of 20 megabits per second.
The download rate of the 0.5-watt laser system used in the lunar demonstration is roughly equivalent to streaming 30 HDTV channels simultaneously, program managers said. Measured another way, they said a Google map of Mars using current communications technology would require nine years. A future laser communications network could reduce mapping time to nine weeks.
NASA Administrator Charles Boldin noted in a message transmitted to the moon via the laser system that the trial was a precursor to a more ambitious demonstration later in the decade called the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration. "With optical communications, we'll be able to transmit more data so that future rovers on other planets and human missions to an asteroid and Mars will enjoy Internet-like connections," he claimed.
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