A new record in laser-based data transmission has been achieved by Nasa, using a laser communication payload aboard a Moon-orbiting spacecraft.
The Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) payload aboard the LADEE spacecraft launched to the Moon in September this year, has transmitted data from the lunar orbit some 384,400km away from the Earth at the record breaking rate of 622 megabits per second.
"LLCD is the first step on our roadmap toward building the next generation of space communication capability," said Badri Younes, NASA's deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation in Washington.
"We are encouraged by the results of the demonstration to this point, and we are confident we are on the right path to introduce this new capability into operational service soon."
The payload aboard the LADEE spacecraft communicates with a ground terminal at NASA's White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Together, the two terminals form the basis for NASA's first two-way communication laser system, demonstrating an error-free data upload rate of 20 Mbps transmitted from the ground to the Moon-orbiting spacecraft.
As the radio waves, a common standard used in telecommunications in space, are slowly reaching its limits, the engineering community has set its sights on lasers.
It is believed laser based communications system could address the growing requirements for data transmission and improve capabilities such as increasing resolution of satellite imaging and enabling 3D video transmission from deep space.
"The goal of LLCD is to validate and build confidence in this technology so that future missions will consider using it," said Don Cornwell, LLCD manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
LLCD is a short-duration experiment and the precursor to NASA's long-duration demonstration, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), expected to be launched and tested in 2017.