NASA's first two-way optical communications relay satellite launching this week

The LCRD mission is poised to revolutionize space communications by showcasing the unique capabilities of laser/optical communications.


Devdiscourse News Desk | California | Updated: 01-12-2021 10:56 IST | Created: 01-12-2021 10:56 IST
NASA's first two-way optical communications relay satellite launching this week
Image Credit: Twitter (@NASASCaN)
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NASA's first two-way optical communications relay satellite, Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), is all set to launch on Sunday, December 5. The mission is poised to revolutionize space communications by showcasing the unique capabilities of laser/optical communications.

LCRD will launch aboard the Department of Defense's Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6), which is part of the Space Test Program 3 (STP-3) mission. STP-3 will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket from Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Live coverage of the launch is scheduled to air on NASA Television, the agency's website, and the NASA App beginning at 3:30 a.m. EST, the space agency said on Tuesday.

Laser vs Radio systems

Laser infrared light waves used for laser communications use a different wavelength of light than radio waves, allowing 10 to 100 times more data to be transmitted back to Earth than the latter. For instance, it would take roughly nine weeks to transmit a completed map of Mars back to Earth with current radio frequency systems while with lasers, it would take about nine days.

In addition to increased data capabilities, laser systems also provide decreased size, weight, and power requirements, making them ideal for space missions.

NASA's LCRD features two optical terminals - one that receives data from a user spacecraft, while the other transmits data to ground stations on Earth.

LCRD will demonstrate space-to-ground laser communications linking two ground stations - Table Mountain, California, and Haleakalā, Hawaii. These locations were chosen for their clear weather conditions and remote, high-altitude locations as atmospheric disturbances such as clouds and turbulence can interfere with laser signals as they travel through Earth's atmosphere.

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