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NASA Demonstrates Laser Data Communication With Lunar Orbiter

By - Source: NASA | B 12 comments
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NASA has made its first step beyond its more than 50 year-old radio wave-based Deep Space Network (DSN), to communicate with spacecraft.

The organization said that it successfully demonstrated that data can piggyback on its tracking lasers and transmit information at "planetary distances".

The demonstration consisted of individual pixels of an image, the portrait of Mona Lisa, that were sent via light impulses to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which travels about 240,000 miles away from Earth. By knowing the location of the LRO via a tracking beam, NASA was able to use the laser simultaneously for data communication and tracking.

"This is the first time anyone has achieved one-way laser communication at planetary distances," said Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter's principal investigator, David Smith of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "In the near future, this type of simple laser communication might serve as a backup for the radio communication that satellites use. In the more distant future, it may allow communication at higher data rates than present radio links can provide."

The data transmission required the image to be reconstructed and corrected by the LRO, but the complete image was eventually received. The image had a resolution of 152 pixels by 200 pixels. "Every pixel was converted into a shade of gray, represented by a number between zero and 4,095," NASA said. "Each pixel was transmitted by a laser pulse, with the pulse being fired in one of 4,096 possible time slots during a brief time window allotted for laser tracking." The achieved data transmission rate was 300 bits per second.

Current radio transmission data rates heavily depend on the distance the signal has to travel. For example, signals from Voyager 1, the spacecraft currently farthest away from the distance, need more than 30 hours to reach Earth. The DSN is said, however, to deliver a "few megabits per second" of bandwidth at this time with more modern devices, such as the Mars rovers. In the future, NASA hopes to achieve as much as 600 Mb/s bandwidth with its space network.

 

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  • 12 Hide
    calmstateofmind , January 21, 2013 1:34 AM
    francesmmy neighbor's mother makes $63 every hour on the internet. She has been out of a job for five months but last month her income was $13516 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more here www.pie21.com


    She must have her own site, if you know what I mean...
Other Comments
  • 7 Hide
    A Bad Day , January 20, 2013 9:20 PM
    Good to hear that NASA hasn't been killed by the major budget crunches. Hate to be an engineer there though. Watching coworkers go and working in relatively empty areas has to be lonely, and paranoid-inducing.

    Quote:
    The DSN is said, however, to deliver a "few megabits per second" of bandwidth at this time with more modern devices, such as the Mars rovers. In the future, NASA hopes to achieve as much as 600 Mb/s bandwidth with its space network.


    Some decent error-correction coding and looks it's viable...

    Unless if some jerk somehow determines the exact location of the laser and puts a lead sheet in its path.
  • -8 Hide
    SirGCal , January 20, 2013 9:22 PM
    300bps... That is Horribly slow. I don't see a realistic application for something of that speed with any real data size. I.E. video-chat with deep space craft, internet for same, etc. Perhaps basic text but even images at that speed would be extremely painful. Most people old enough to remember dialup modems being common place, they were magnitudes faster. However, this is a first step. We'll see where it goes.
  • 7 Hide
    mbreslin1954 , January 20, 2013 11:29 PM
    "For example, signals from Voyager 1, the spacecraft currently farthest away from the distance, . . ."

    Huh?

    Currently farthest away from the distance? Someone needs proof-readers.
  • 12 Hide
    calmstateofmind , January 21, 2013 1:34 AM
    francesmmy neighbor's mother makes $63 every hour on the internet. She has been out of a job for five months but last month her income was $13516 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more here www.pie21.com


    She must have her own site, if you know what I mean...
  • 0 Hide
    thecolorblue , January 21, 2013 3:50 AM
    Well this sucks for SETI
  • 4 Hide
    bluekoala , January 21, 2013 9:18 AM
    SirGCal300bps... That is Horribly slow. I don't see a realistic application for something of that speed with any real data size. I.E. video-chat with deep space craft, internet for same, etc. Perhaps basic text but even images at that speed would be extremely painful. Most people old enough to remember dialup modems being common place, they were magnitudes faster. However, this is a first step. We'll see where it goes.

    300bps is actually a dial-up speed. I work for a telco and I can tell you that 300bps is amazing considering this thing orbits THE FRICKEN MOON.
  • 3 Hide
    mrmaia , January 21, 2013 10:04 AM
    SirGCal300bps... That is Horribly slow. I don't see a realistic application for something of that speed with any real data size. I.E. video-chat with deep space craft, internet for same, etc. Perhaps basic text but even images at that speed would be extremely painful. Most people old enough to remember dialup modems being common place, they were magnitudes faster. However, this is a first step. We'll see where it goes.


    The link is made for communication, not your everyday porn videos. It's a laser beam aimed 240k miles goddamn away from Earth, what did you want? A cable connection?
  • 0 Hide
    manofchalk , January 21, 2013 10:13 AM
    Potential fix to the bandwidth issue, multiple lasers.
    Though I'm sure there are much smarter people than I in NASA who can point out every reason why that wouldnt work and/or is unfeasible if it hasnt alerady been done. So I'l just be quiet now.
    At the very least we now have an effectively instant method of communication, sure even a primitive use of the laser firing off Morse code would be faster than radio at these distances.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , January 21, 2013 10:24 AM
    Achievable bandwidth over any distance will not have any effect of the time it takes for the signals to go from one place to another. Pls correct the phrasing.

    > Current radio transmission data rates heavily depend on the distance the signal has to travel. For example, signals from Voyager 1, the spacecraft currently farthest away from the distance, need more than 30 hours to reach Earth. The DSN is said, however, to deliver a "few megabits per second" of bandwidth at this time with more modern devices, such as the Mars rovers. In the future, NASA hopes to achieve as much as 600 Mb/s bandwidth with its space network.
  • 1 Hide
    Cutha , January 23, 2013 9:21 PM
    Quote:

    At the very least we now have an effectively instant method of communication, sure even a primitive use of the laser firing off Morse code would be faster than radio at these distances.


    Both radio and laser are part of the electromagnetic spectrum and both travel at the speed of light, neither is instant.
  • 0 Hide
    manofchalk , January 27, 2013 6:09 AM
    ^ "Effectively" instant.
    Fully aware that over the distances were talking when it comes to space travel, nothing will ever cover that distance instantly.
  • 0 Hide
    CrArC , March 14, 2013 4:58 AM
    manofchalk^ "Effectively" instant.Fully aware that over the distances were talking when it comes to space travel, nothing will ever cover that distance instantly.
    Cutha is simply saying that radio waves travel just as fast. Which is still not instant. Not even close.

    Regarding the bandwidth issues you mentioned, one way would be to use multiple wavelengths in the beam. Another would be to use polarisation to separate multiple communication streams. However, both these options would likely be irrelevant (as well as impractical) as the bandwidth limitation is not caused by the laser medium itself but rather the quality of the link.