NASA to show two way space laser relay communications

NASA to show two way space laser relay communications

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

US space agency NASA is set to demonstrate two way laser relay from the International Space Station.

NASA’s Integrated LCRD Low Earth Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal (ILLUMA-T) is being sent to the ISS to connect to the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), which launched in December 2021. This will enable NASA’s first two-way, end-to-end laser relay system, building on previous point to point space laser systems.

ILLUMA-T is the size of a standard refrigerator and will be secured to an external module on the space station to conduct its demonstration with LCRD. The infrared lasers enable data rates as high as 1.2Gbit/s.

Portable space to ground laser link demonstration – video

“Laser communications offer missions more flexibility and an expedited way to get data back from space,” said Badri Younes, former deputy associate administrator for NASA’s SCaN program. “We are integrating this technology on demonstrations near Earth, at the Moon, and in deep space.”

LCRD is currently used as laser relay in geosynchronous orbit – 22,000 miles from Earth – by beaming data between two ground stations and conducting experiments to further refine NASA’s laser capabilities.

“Once ILLUMA-T is on the space station, the terminal will send high-resolution data, including pictures and videos to LCRD at a rate of 1.2 gigabits-per-second,” said Matt Magsamen, deputy project manager for ILLUMA-T. “Then, the data will be sent from LCRD to ground stations in Hawaii and California. This demonstration will show how laser communications can benefit missions in low Earth orbit.”

Reconfigurable 100Gbit/s laser links for satellite comms

Following the payload’s installation, the ILLUMA-T team will perform preliminary testing and in-orbit checkouts. Once first light is achieved, data transmission and laser communications experiments will begin and continue throughout the duration of the planned mission.

Aside from LCRD, ILLUMA-T’s predecessors include the 2022 TeraByte InfraRed Delivery system, which is currently testing laser communications on a small CubeSat in low Earth orbit; the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration, which transferred data to and from lunar orbit to the Earth and back during the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer mission in 2014; and the 2017 Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science, which demonstrated how laser communications can speed up the flow of information between Earth and space compared to radio signals.


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