NASA is mulling high-speed laser-based space internet to bolster communications between spacecraft and Earth during future missions to the Mars, moon, and beyond.
Named as LCRD (Laser Communications Relay Demonstration), the project will be using laser-based high-speed sky internet for space communications including higher data transfer rates and enhanced astronaut communications.
The LCRD will be launched in 2019, which, according to NASA has already passed decision point review and is in the test stage of development.
"LCRD is the next step in implementing NASA's vision of using optical communications for both near-Earth and deep space missions," said Steve Jurczyk, head of the LCRD project and NASA's associate administrator for Space Technology Mission Directorate.
Claiming that LCRD would revolutionize space communications, Jurczyk said NASA is also partnering with other institutions including MIT Lincoln Labs and the U.S. Air Force.
Why Laser Is Better Than Radio Frequency Waves
Under the new technology, use of laser communications will involve data encoded on a beam of light that will be transmitted to Earth terminals from the spacecraft.
NASA says the technology is "10 to 100 times better" than traditional radio frequency communication with the added advantage being the smaller size.
Given that laser communication systems are smaller, production of spacecraft communication mechanisms in lower weight and power requirements will be a positive change.
According to Don Cornwell, director of the Advanced Communication division, LCRD can operate for many years and NASA will be optimizing the disruptive new technology.
Cornwell also added that a laser terminal is getting ready for the International Space Station that will use LCRD for data transmission from the station to the ground at gigabit-per-second data rates.
LCRD Project Methodology
NASA will be putting LCRD into a geosynchronous orbit that will function between two to five years where the payload will comprise a space switching unit binding two identical optical terminals working as data router. The laser modems at ground terminals will translate the digital data into the laser, RF signals, and vice versa.
The precursor to LCRD was the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) that went aboard the Lunar Atmosphere Dust and Environment Explorer.
In 2013, LLCD showed that high-data-rate laser communications are possible beyond low-Earth orbit.
It is expected that LCRD will offer better reliability of the technology and test the capabilities in varied environmental conditions.
NASA Mars Human Mission And Significance Of LCRD
NASA's effort to introduce laser-based data transfer coincides with President Donald Trump's authorization of $19.5 billion funding for NASA.
It has been the first authorization bill for NASA in seven years. The bill, along with the budget blueprint by President Trump will buffer NASA from any finding cut unlike the guillotine faced by many other science agencies.
For NASA, Mars human mission by the 2030s will be a long-term goal with funding open for building the Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew capsule required for the mission.
"It's been a long time since a bill like this has been signed reaffirming our national commitment to the core mission of NASA, human space exploration, space science and technology," President Trump said.