Unlike the instantaneous communication we’re used to seeing in shows like Star Trek, real-life space communication doesn’t really work that way — and that’s a problem as we look to expand our human footprint to Mars and beyond. But NASA thinks space lasers could be the answer we need.
A successful satellite test in 2013 managed to send data from the Earth to the moon at 622 megabits per second (which is dramatically faster than traditional radio communications), and now NASA is setting up a 2019 test to further study the feasibility of laser communications. Space reports the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) will be set up on the International Space Station (ISS) to shoot data from Earth orbit to ground stations in Hawaii and California.
“We have been using RF since the beginning, 50 to 60 years, so we’ve learned a lot about how it works in different weather conditions and all the little things to allow us to make the most out of the technology, but we don’t have that experience with laser comm,” said Dave Israel, Exploration and Space Communications architect at Goddard and principal investigator on LCRD, in a statement. “LCRD will allow us to test the performance over all different weather conditions and times of day and learn how to make the most of laser comm.”
NASA believes the technology holds a ton of promise, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. If the 2019 mission holds promise, the space agency is looking to potentially incorporate the technology into future relay stations for missions to Mars. It could cut down the communication delay considerably, and allow for more data to be sent back to Earth. Win, win.