Laser Comm: That's a Bright Idea

Narration: Michael Starobin


[ Sound FX ] Remember these? Laser light made records obsolete. NASA is on the verge of doing the same thing with space based communications. Before the end of the decade, the Laser Communication Relay Demonstration mission will revolutionize the way we move tons of data from orbit to ground and all around the solar system. The demand for vast transmission capability grows exponentially. Sensors are gathering more data than ever; sophisticated command and control software talks more and asks more. Conventional radio frequency transmissions can't meet the need. That's why engineers at Goddard, and partners like MIT Lincoln Lab, the Jet Propulsion Lab, and Space Systems Loral are working on the next generation of high data rate, low mass optical systems. Their goals are nothing short of imagining the future and bringing it to life. Imagine live, high definition video feeds from far away places in the solar system. That's the promise of Laser Comm. The beauty of Laser Comm is its scalability. Missions will see profound improvements, with speeds increasing from 10 to 100 times over today's RF transmissions. And huge bandwidth improvements are just the beginning. Reductions of hardware mass and power demands will see equivalent savings. Smaller communications systems mean more efficient power management, and more efficient power management unlocks a wealth of potential engineering options for other systems. Laser Comm is just one part of NASA's new initiative to commercialize space. This particular demonstration will hitch a ride on a Loral communications satellite in 2017. Once on orbit, control of the Optical Module will be turned over to NASA Goddard for testing. Two-way data transmissions from ground stations at White Sands New Mexico and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California will put the system through its paces. But just a few years after a successful demonstration, NASA's own telecommunications relay system could be replaced with the more advanced hardware. Data transmission by laser light. That's a bright idea. And as a means for moving huge amounts of data efficiently and effectively, it's the communications backbone of ambitious plans for the nation's future in space.