News / Science & Technology

NASA Breaks Data Transmission Speed Record With Laser Shot to Moon

NASA’s Lunar Lasercom Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory (OCTL) Terminal, sending a laser beam to the moon.
NASA’s Lunar Lasercom Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory (OCTL) Terminal, sending a laser beam to the moon.

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If you thought your high-speed Internet was fast, think again.

NASA has set a new speed record for data transmission in space, beaming information to and from the LADEE probe some 380,000 kilometers away in lunar orbit. NASA downloaded data at a rate of 622 megabits per second (Mbps) using a pulsed laser beam.

For comparison’s sake, Akamai technologies says that the average internet user has a connection speed of 3.3 Mbps.  In the United States, the average connection speed is 8.7 Mbps.

Aboard LADEE is the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) is NASA’s first system for two-way communication using a laser instead of radio waves. It also has demonstrated an error-free data upload rate of 20 Mbps transmitted from the primary ground station in New Mexico to the spacecraft currently orbiting the moon.

Since NASA first ventured into space, it has relied on radio frequency (RF) communication. However, RF is reaching its limit as demand for more data capacity continues to increase. The development and deployment of laser communications will enable NASA to extend communication capabilities such as increased image resolution and 3-D video transmission from deep space. LLCD demonstrated speeds five times faster than NASA currently has.

"The goal of LLCD is to validate and build confidence in this technology so that future missions will consider using it," said Don Cornwell, LLCD manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "This unique ability developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory has incredible application possibilities."

LLCD is a short-duration experiment and the precursor to NASA's long-duration demonstration, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD). It is scheduled to launch in 2017.

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Comment Sorting
by: Rob Swift from: United Kingdom
October 24, 2013 3:51 PM
Twelve years ago we were talking of the existing backbones (main fibre optic data links) as running at 100 Giga bits a second.(That's just the bit rate, and the baud rate was much above that using line codes) Also new technology promised even faster data rates with magnetic fields being used to generate the signal while the laser was left on. What remains unexplained is why available data rates are so slow. Permittivity of free space should make transmission through a vacuum faster than through optical fibre.

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