NASA to begin testing laser-based communications system

The space shuttle program may be over for now, but that isn’t stopping NASA from coming up with new wild and crazy technologies that us tech junkies would love to get our hands on.

The next crazy (awesome) invention in the works over at NASA is a laser-powered communications system capable of transmitting data to and from, say, probes or Mars rovers, at speeds of around 100Mbps. It’s basically laser-powered internet, which sounds amazing.

With current technology, it takes upwards of 90 minutes for Earth to receive a high-resolution image captured by one of the Mars rovers at a rate roughly around 6Mbps. Using NASA’s laser-powered communications system, that time could be cut down to around 5 minutes.

“Just as the home internet user hit the wall with dial-up, NASA is approaching the limit of what its existing communications network can handle,” said Dave Israel, project lead on NASA’s laser-based communications system.

In order to get such a communications system in a working state, NASA will have to roll out some new hardware. Specifically, satellites will need to be fitted with telescopes, lasers, mirrors, detectors, tracking systems, and two different types of modems.

NASA will begin testing the new communications system by encoding and sending a transmission up to a specially-fitted satellite, which will then transmit the data back to one of two locations in California and Hawaii.

The laser-based communications trial is expected to run for two or three years.

Source: NASA (via Gizmodo)