Pioneering the Next Era of Laser Space Communications | Space


NASA’s ILLUMA-T payload communicating with LCRD over laser signals. Image Credit: NASA/Dave Ryan.

NASA will soon deploy ILLUMA-T to the International Space Station, aiming to enhance laser communications in space. Working with the previously launched LCRD, this system promises faster data transmission rates using infrared light. ILLUMA-T’s launch, tests, and demonstrations build upon past missions, pushing forward NASA’s vision for advanced laser communications in future space endeavors.

NASA uses the International Space Station (ISS) — a football field-sized spacecraft orbiting Earth — to learn more about living and working in space. For over 20 years, the space station has provided a unique platform for investigation and research in areas like biology, technology, agriculture, and more. It serves as a home for astronauts conducting experiments, including advancing NASA’s space communications capabilities.

NASA’s ILLUMA-T payload in a Goddard cleanroom. The payload will be installed on the International Space Station and demo higher data rates with NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration. Image Credit: Dennis Henry.

In 2023, NASA is sending a technology demonstration known as the Integrated LCRD Low Earth Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal (ILLUMA-T) to the space station. Together, ILLUMA-T and the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), which launched in December 2021, will complete NASA’s first two-way, end-to-end laser relay system.

With ILLUMA-T, NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program office will demonstrate the power of laser communications from the space station. Using invisible infrared light, laser communications systems send and receive information at higher data rates. With higher data rates, missions can send more images and videos back to Earth in a single transmission. Once installed on the space station, ILLUMA-T will showcase the benefits higher data rates could have for missions in low Earth orbit. Expert…

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