Space Station to Send Video Back to Earth Using Laser Light
17 March 2014
Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have experimented with laser light's potential to transmit data to Earth from space as part of their Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) project, which was initiated ahead of a planned launch to the International Space Station aboard the Space X-3 mission.
This new method of sending video and data from the space station back to Earth comes in response to the need for improving the communication capacity of scientific instruments in space missions. Currently, many of the deep space missions communicate at a speed of 200 to 400 kilobits per second, while OPALS will be able to initially transmit data and video at up to 50 Mbit/s. Future deep space optical communication systems will potentially transmit information at speeds of over 1 Gbit/s, mission manager Matt Abrahamson commented.
NASA said that OPALS would be mounted aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, part of a cargo resupply mission to the space station that will be launched later in March. Its task will be to perform transmission tests for a period of at least three months. The device, which will be robotically extracted from the trunk of the Dragon cargo spacecraft and then manipulated by a robotic arm for positioning outside the station, will be sent laser beacons by a ground telescope as the space station travels around the Earth. While maintaining lock on the uplink beacon, the system will downlink a modulated beam containing formatted video. In demonstrations lasting 100 seconds, the pointing, acquisition and tracking of laser beams will be examined as the orbiting instrument and ground telescope maintain line of sight.