In lasers the future of space communications: Mars and Earth are “closer”

In the laser the future of space communications: Mars and Earth are “closer”

22 November 2021 3

The pandemic has slowed down NASA’s plans to revolutionize communications and data transmission systems

in space, replacing those based on radio frequencies with i laser. Nonetheless, the work continues – especially in view of Artemis – and December could represent a crucial moment for the whole project. The 4th day of the next month (between 10: 04 and 12: 04 in the morning in Italy) will start from the Space Launch Complex 41 of the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station mission Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) on board the Atlas V rocket 551 of the United Launch Alliance . The aim is to test “ the dynamic powers of laser communication technologies “.

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Not only will Earth-space communications be faster, but problems will also be bypassed of radio frequency overcrowding especially now that low orbit is populated by huge constellations of satellites – Starlink (v. last launch) but not only. LCRD, explains NASA, will be positioned at more than 35. 000 kilometers away from Earth and “ will show the unique capabilities of optical communications for increase bandwidth to communicate in space by reducing size, weight and power requirements “.

Replacing radio waves with infrared light (invisible to the human eye) will allow transfer data at a speed of 1.2 Gbps from the geosynchronous orbit to the Earth and vice versa: this is a speed between 10 And 100 times higher than the traditional radiofrequency one.

Infrared light transmits data through narrower waves and at a higher frequency than radio waves. Therefore, it is possible to receive or send multiple data at the same time within the same package. However, a laser terminal in space must be extremely accurate when sending data to Earth: it only takes a small error of a fraction of a degree to fail communication.

LCRD is a relay satellite equipped with two optical terminals , one for reception, the other for data transmission. Integrated modems translate digital data into laser signals that are transmitted through light beams encoded by the optical modules of the relay, NASA’s first end-to-end bi-directional.

The test will last a couple of years, during which the laser communication skills with the ground stations will be tested in California and Hawaii (Table Mountain and Haleakalā Volcano, chosen for the favorable weather conditions of the respective areas so that the clouds do not interfere with the signals). Subsequently, intra-space data exchanges will be analyzed in view of the missions to the Moon and Mars: the installation of an optical terminal on the International Space Station for the transmission of scientific experiment data to Earth is planned to follow.

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