NASA this week used a pulsed laser beam to transmit data from the Earth to the moon—and the download rate was quite incredible considering the 239,000 miles separating the two. The agency used its Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) to ping a spacecraft currently orbiting the moon, setting a record breaking rate of 622Mbps; NASA also successfully demonstrated an error-free data upload rate of 20Mbps. Those kind of speeds are better than what some people get with their home Internet.
NASA says its LLCD initiative is meant to change the way we communicate in space; the agency’s most recent demonstration, according to Badri Younes, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation, brings LLCD one step closer toward operational service. NASA currently relies on radio frequency (RF) communication, though the technology is beginning to show its age as demand for more data rises. With the rollout of laser communication, NASA will have greater flexibility to send higher resolution photos and 3D video back to Earth—NASA may even be able to one day live stream events in space.
Don Cornwell, LLCD manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said the technology has “incredible application possibilities.” For one, it could help researchers more thoroughly study deep space, which we still know little about. NASA’s LLCD is actually a precursor to a longer-duration demonstration, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), which is part of another program set to launch in 2017.
With an endgame to further rollout laser communication in future missions, NASA right now is focused on studying Earth’s moon, its atmosphere, and whether dust causes the lunar horizon to glow, which several astronauts observed during Apollo missions. With speeds over 600Mbps beaming between the moon and Earth, who knows what kind of information NASA will have at its disposal. With so many possible Earth-like planets out in the vastness of space, there’s certainly a lot of data to sift through. To get a better understanding of LLCD’s capabilities, check out the video below.