Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

David Talbot

A View from David Talbot

A Successful Moon Shot for Laser Communications

A test of high-bandwidth optical communications from lunar orbiter to Earth stations succeeds.

  • October 23, 2013

There was no “Mr. Watson—come here—I want to see you” moment. But a pioneering space-based optical communications test has been a big success. And that means optical systems stand a higher chance not only dominating future space data transmissions (with radio systems serving as a backup) but of enabling new satellite networks that would boost the capacity of the terrestrial Internet.

A planned test of the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (see “NASA Moonshot Will Test Laser Communications”) aboard a probe in lunar orbit is working just as planned, delivering download speeds six times faster than the fastest radio system used for moon communications, Don Boroson, the researcher at MIT’s Lincoln Lab who led the project, says, “We have successfully hit all our marks—all the downlink rates up to 622 Mbps [and] our two uplink rates up to 20 Mbps.”

One of the toughest parts of the task: aligning ground telescopes to continually see the incoming infrared laser beam dispatched from a probe whizzing around the moon. This “signal acquisition”  was “fast and reliable,” he added. His team even transmitted high-definition video of “shuttle launches, space station antics, and Earth images,” he said. “Also, some little videos we took of ourselves in the operations center.”

Ground-based detectors were set up in California, New Mexico, and one of the Canary Islands. The big difficulty with sending optical signals through the air is that they can be blocked by clouds. Still, in the future, networks of satellites could transmit data among each other and then to ground stations in various places, giving a bandwidth boost to the ground-based fiber network.

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
More from Connectivity

What it means to be constantly connected with each other and vast sources of information.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Basic.
  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.