Sun. Nov 28th, 2021

NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) will send data from orbit to Earth using laser communications devices. Here are a few things about NASA’s ground-breaking LCRD project.

NASA has employed radiofrequency devices to communicate with astronauts and spacecraft since the beginning of space travel. However, as space missions create and collect more data, the demand for improved communications capabilities grows. LCRD has the power of laser communications, which encodes and transmits data to and from Earth using infrared light rather than radio frequencies.

Laser infrared light waves are electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum. Missions transcribe scientific data into electromagnetic waves for transmission back to Earth.

Because infrared light occurs at a considerably higher frequency than radio waves, technologists may put more data into each transmission. More data results in more information and discoveries about space at the same time. LCRD will use infrared lasers to relay data to Earth at 1.2 gigabits per second from geosynchronous orbit (Gbps). One could download a movie in less than a minute at this pace and distance.

If you were alive between the ’80s and ’90s, you’d recall dial-up internet connections that were sluggish and uncomfortable. The incorporation of laser communications into spacecraft is analogous to humanity’s high-speed internet usage using technologies such as fiber optic networking: revolutionary.

Thanks to our home internet connections, high-definition films, programs, and materials can now reach our screens virtually instantly. This is due, in part, to fiber-optic connections that transfer laser light tightly packed with data via plastic or glass cables, resulting in a speedier user experience. The LCRD is equipped with two optical terminals, one of which receives data from a user spacecraft, and the other transmits data to ground stations on Earth.

The modems in LCRDs convert digital data into laser signals, which are subsequently communicated by the relay’s optical modules through encoded beams of light that are invisible to the human eye. The LCRD can send and receive data, forming a continuous channel for mission data to and from orbit. These features combine to form LCRD NASA’s first two-way, end-to-end optical relay.

These are only a few components that comprise the LCRD payload, which is the size of a king mattress when assembled. After the LCRD collects and encodes information, the payload transmits it to ground stations on Earth, outfitted with telescopes to receive the light and modems to convert the encoded light back into digital data. The LCRD’s ground stations, Optical Ground Stations (OGS) -1 and -2, are located on Table Mountain in Southern California and Haleakala Volcano in Maui, Hawaii.

While laser communications can enable faster data transmission speeds, atmospheric disturbances like clouds and turbulence can interfere with laser signals as they travel through the Earth’s atmosphere. OGS-1 and OSG-2 sites were chosen for their clear weather and isolated high-altitude positions. Most of the weather in those locations occurs below the mountain’s crest, resulting in a generally clear sky ideal for laser communications.

The LCRD mission will demonstrate the feasibility of laser communications systems from geosynchronous orbit, approximately 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface. LCRD will stay for two years to test and experiment before aiding additional missions. During this period, OGS-1 and OGS-2 will serve as “missions,” delivering data from one station to LCRD and then back down to the other.

By Gaby Lewis

Gabby is a postgraduate in biotechnology and has an immense interest in following technology developments. Quiet by nature, he is an avid Chess player. He is responsible for handling the office staff writers and providing them with the latest updates happenings in the world of technology. [email protected]

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