NASA launched its new Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD)—the agency’s first-ever laser communications system—from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on December 7 at 3.50 p.m. IST. The LCRD will assist the agency in conducting space-based optical communication tests.
Currently, the majority of NASA spacecraft relay data using radio frequency communications. Optical communications will allow for a 10 to 100-fold improvement in bandwidth over radio frequency technologies.
In a statement, Principal Investigator David Israel of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, stated, “LCRD will illustrate all of the benefits of employing laser systems and enable us to understand how to best utilise them operationally.” “Now that this capacity has been established, we can begin to use laser communications on additional missions, making it a standardised method of sending and receiving data.”
The LCRD is equipped with two optical terminals, one for receiving data from a user spacecraft and the other for transmitting data to ground stations. The digital data will be converted into laser pulses by the modems. This will then be conveyed by light beams that have been encoded. According to NASA, the LCRD is the world’s first two-way, end-to-end optical relay, according to a press release.
Different wavelengths of light are used in laser communications and radio waves. Infrared light is used in lasers, which have a shorter wavelength than radio waves. This will allow more data to be sent in a shorter amount of time. NASA said in a statement that it would take around nine weeks to send a comprehensive map of Mars back to Earth using present radio frequency technology. We can cut it down to roughly nine days using lasers. ”
LCRD will transfer data to Earth at 1.2 gigabits per second (Gbps) using infrared lasers. At this speed, a movie will take less than a minute to download.
When compared to radio equipment, optical communications systems are smaller, lighter, and use less power. “More space for scientific equipment necessitates a smaller size.” A lighter launch equals a lower cost. Less power means the spacecraft’s batteries will last longer. The government claims that “missions will have exceptional communications capabilities with optical communications augmenting radio.”
The LCRD payload is housed aboard the Space Test Program Satellite 6 of the US Department of Defense (STPSat-6). It will be 35,000 kilometres above Earth in a geosynchronous orbit.
LCRD will put its communications skills to the test over the first two years. Engineers at the LCRD mission’s ground stations in California and Hawaii will be in charge of it. The team will use radio frequency transmissions to convey test data, and the LCRD will respond with optical signals.
Source: The Indian Express