NASA uses lasers to send information to and from Earth, sending terabytes of data pictures and videos to increase our knowledge of the universe.
This capability is known as laser, or optical, communications, even though these eye-safe, infrared beams can't be seen by human eyes.
Laser communications systems provide missions with increased data rates, they can send and receive more information in a single transmission compared to traditional radio waves.
Additionally, the systems are lighter, more flexible, and more secure. Laser communications can supplement radio frequency communications, which most NASA missions use today.
On Dec. 7, 2021, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) launched into orbit, about 22,000 miles from Earth to test the capabilities of laser communications.
LCRD is the agency's first technology demonstration of a two-way laser relay system. Now that LCRD is in orbit, NASA's laser communications advancements continue
Experiments provided by NASA, other government agencies, academia, and industry are measuring the long-term effects of the atmosphere on laser communications signals.
Assessing the technology's applicability for future missions and testing on-orbit laser relay capabilities.
NASA's laser communications endeavors extend into deep space as well.
Currently, NASA is working on a future terminal that could test laser communications against extreme distances and challenging pointing constraints.