NASA’s new Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, mission, which is scheduled to be launched on Sept. 6 will attempt to show that two-way laser communication beyond Earth is possible, expanding the possibility of transmitting huge amounts of data, the space agency said on Wednesday.
The mission will execute the experiment with the help of NASA’s Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration, or LLCD, aboard the LADEE spacecraft. Scientists believe that the new ability could eventually allow for 3D high-definition video transmissions from space to become routine.
“LLCD is designed to send six times more data from the moon using a smaller transmitter with 25 percent less power as compared to the equivalent state-of-the-art radio system,” Don Cornwell, the LLCD manager, said in a statement. “Lasers are also more secure and less susceptible to interference and jamming.”
Ever since NASA first ventured into space, radio frequency communication, also known as RF, has been the communication platform used in various shuttle programs and unmanned missions. However, as demand for more data capacity continues to increase, RF is gradually reaching its limits.
Scientists believe that the development of laser communications will provide a solution to this issue by giving NASA the ability to extend communication applications, such as increased image resolution and even 3D video transmission in deep space.
Continue Reading Below
“The goal of the LLCD experiment is to validate and build confidence in this technology so that future missions will consider using it,” Cornwell said. “This unique ability developed by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory), has incredible application possibilities and we are very excited to get this instrument off the ground.”
According to NASA, LLCD’s main mission objective will be to transmit hundreds of millions of bits of data per second from the moon to Earth. The ability is equivalent to transmitting more than 100 HD television channels at the same time.
In addition, LLCD’s receiving capability also will be tested as tens of millions of bits will be sent from Earth to the spacecraft every second. These demonstrations will prove whether the technology for increased bandwidth for future missions is possible.
There is a primary ground terminal at NASA’s White Sands Complex in New Mexico, which can receive and transmit LLCD signals. There also are two alternate sites, one located at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which is geared only to receive signals, while the other is being provided by the European Space Agency on the Spanish island of Tenerife, off the west coast of Africa.
Scientists recently transmitted an image of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, the Mona Lisa, to NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft circling the moon. While it was done at only hundreds of data bits per second, scientists expect LLCD to send similar data millions of times faster.
“We can even envision such a laser-based system enabling a robotic mission to an asteroid,” Cornwell said. “It could have 3D, high-definition video signals transmitted to Earth providing essentially ‘telepresence’ to a human controller on the ground.”