By the end of the year, NASA will launch a demonstration test of a laser communication system aboard the International Space Station (ISS). This event could revolutionize the way we communicate not only in low orbit, but also on the surface of the Moon and in deep space. Laser communication systems offer several advantages over radio communication, which has long been the primary method of communication in space missions.
One of the main advantages of laser systems is their cost-effectiveness and compactness. They are significantly cheaper and lighter than radio devices, making them more affordable for use in space. In addition, the short wavelengths of lasers allow much more information to be transmitted at one time compared to radio waves.
As part of the SpaceX commercial landing mission, NASA will launch a device called ILLUMA-T, which will collaborate with the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) system already launched in December 2021. ILLUMA-T will use infrared light to exchange laser communications at high speed. This technology will make it possible to transmit large amounts of video and images back to Earth at about 1.2 gigabits per second.
“Laser communications provide missions with more flexibility and a faster way to return data from space,” said Badri Younes, former deputy administrator of NASA’s SCaN program.
Initially, ILLUMA-T will communicate with the LCRD satellite, which is 22,000 miles above Earth. The LCRD satellite, in turn, will send data back to Earth at two stations in California and Hawaii.
While ILLUMA-T is not the first mission to test laser communications in space, this test brings NASA closer to the practical application of this technology. All of the tests conducted contribute to improving space communications between Earth, the Moon, Mars and other objects in space.