NASA will soon develop an optical, laser-based communication system capable of transmitting high-resolution images and videos from Mars in just one minute, down from the current 90 minutes.
According to NASA, the Laser Communications System Relay Demonstration will encode digital data and transmit the information via laser light from specially equipped ground stations to enable the fast transmission.
NASA's current space communications and data transfers are done on radio frequency systems and downloading takes about 90 minutes with a slow speed of 6Mbps. If the trial proves successful, downloading high-definition images and videos from space will be just a minute’s task with a speed of 100 Mbps.
We want to get to the point where communications is no longer a constraint on scientists who want to gather more data, but are worried about getting their data back from space,” said Dave Israel, who is leading the project.
Just as the home Internet user hit the wall with dial-up, NASA is approaching the limit of what its existing communications network can handle,” he said.
The trial run of the optical laser system will require launching a payload that will include telescopes, lasers, mirrors, detectors, a pointing and tracking system, control electronics and two different types of modems, one for communicating with deep space missions and the other for higher data rates from Earth-orbiting spacecrafts.
The system is being developed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and the payload is expected to be launched in 2013.
According to NASA, the demonstration is scheduled to operate in Hawaii and Southern California for about two to three years.