NASA sets space communications speed record

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NASA sets space communications speed record
Lunar laser space terminal with 4-inch telescope. Source: NASA

Laser to the space node.

The United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has achieved a new speed record for interplanetary data communictions by using laser broadband technology.

NASA said its Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) aboard the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft reached 622 megabit per second download speeds by using a pulsed focused light beam, covering a distance of some 385,000 kilometres.

The space agency said this is six times faster than the best ever radio equipment stationed on the moon.

Lunar laser communications ground terminal in New Mexico. Source: NASA
Lunar laser communications ground terminal in New Mexico. Source: NASA

LLCD was also able to upload data from a ground station to the LADEE craft at 20 megabits per second, which NASA said is 5000 faster than with preceding gear.

Continous measurements of the distance between earth and the orbiting LADEE spacecraft were also provided by LLCD with an accuracy of roughly one centimetre.

The optical terminal in space transmits a laser signal with half a Watt of power in the infrared spectrum, aimed at the ground terminal which is equipped with highly sensitive superconducting detectors that are able to measure individual photons in the beam, NASA said.

A 40 Watt laser at the ground terminal is able to simultanously transmit an uplink beam through high-speed laser pulse patterns, making the system capable of duplex communications. NASA did not specify the latency or signal delay of the LLCD system.

LADEE was launched on September 6 this year with a mission to investigate the very thin atmosphere around the moon, carrying the LLCD with it to show new communications technologies.

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