Mission to test laser communications across space distances a success

Dec. 31, 2013 at 3:51 PM
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GREENBELT, Md., Dec. 31 (UPI) -- NASA says tests using spacecraft in orbit around the moon confirm the potential of using lasers to communicate across space.

The Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration mission was designed to show laser communication is possible from a distance of almost a quarter-of-a-million miles, the space agency said.

The LLCD, orbiting the moon aboard NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE,) achieved record-breaking data download and upload speeds to the Moon at 622 megabits per second (Mbps) and 20 Mbps, respectively.

"Throughout our testing we did not see anything that would prevent the operational use of this technology in the immediate future," Don Cornwell, LLCD mission manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD., said in a NASA release.

During the 30-day mission the LLCD demonstrated error-free communications during broad daylight, including maintaining contact when the moon was within three degrees of the sun as seen from Earth, the researchers said.

In an unexpected bonus, they said, LLCD was even able to communicate through thin clouds.

It also demonstrated the ability to "hand-off" the laser connection from one ground station to another, just as a cellphone performs a hand-off from one cell tower to another, they said.

The LLCD can download a gigabyte of data in less than 5 minutes, the researchers said, something that would take several days using LADEE's on-board radio system.

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