The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is developing a laser-based optical communications system that will be able to move data at rates of up to 100 times faster than its existing networks.
NASA plans to show off the high-speed communications system through the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) in 2016. Dave Israel, head of the team developing the network, compares the capability of the existing communications systems, which take 90 minutes to transmit high-resolution images from Mars, to dial-up Internet speeds. However, the LCRD, which will allow NASA to stream high-definition video from distances beyond the moon, is more like a land-based optical network.
The demonstration is expected to include telescopes, lasers, mirrors, detectors, a pointing and tracking system, control electronics, one modem for communicating with deep space missions or low-power smallsats in low-Earth orbit, and a second modem for handling much higher data rates such as from spacecrafts orbiting the earth.
The demonstration will be operational for two to three years, and LCRD will work alongside NASA's radio-based networks.
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