24/7 Space News
NASA's First Two-way End-to-End Laser Communications System
The Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) launched in December 2021. Together, LCRD and ILLUMA-T will complete NASA's first bi-directional end-to-end laser communications system.
NASA's First Two-way End-to-End Laser Communications System
by Kendall Murphy and Katherine Schauer for GSFC News
Greenbelt MD (SPX) Oct 26, 2023

NASA is demonstrating laser communications on multiple missions - showcasing the benefits infrared light can have for science and exploration missions transmitting terabytes of important data. The International Space Station is getting a "flashy" technology demonstration this November. The ILLUMA-T (Integrated Laser Communications Relay Demonstration Low Earth Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal) payload is launching to the International Space Station to demonstrate how missions in low Earth orbit can benefit from laser communications.

Laser communications uses invisible infrared light to send and receive information at higher data rates, providing spacecraft with the capability to send more data back to Earth in a single transmission and expediting discoveries for researchers.

Managed by NASA's Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program, ILLUMA-T is completing NASA's first bi-directional, end-to-end laser communications relay by working with the agency's LCRD (Laser Communications Relay Demonstration). LCRD launched in December 2021 and is currently demonstrating the benefits of laser communications from geosynchronous orbit by transmitting data between two ground stations on Earth in a series of experiments.

Some of LCRD's experiments include studying atmospheric impact on laser signals, confirming LCRD's ability to work with multiple users, testing network capabilities like delay/disruption tolerant networking (DTN) over laser links, and investigating improved navigation capabilities.

Once ILLUMA-T is installed on the space station's exterior, the payload will complete NASA's first in-space demonstration of two-way laser relay capabilities.

How It Works:
ILLUMA-T's optical module is comprised of a telescope and two-axis gimbal which allows pointing and tracking of LCRD in geosynchronous orbit. The optical module is about the size of a microwave and the payload itself is comparable to a standard refrigerator.

ILLUMA-T will relay data from the space station to LCRD at 1.2 gigabits-per-second, then LCRD will send the data down to optical ground stations in California or Hawaii. Once the data reaches these ground stations, it will be sent to the LCRD Mission Operations Center located at NASA's White Sands Complex in Las Cruces, New Mexico. After this, the data will be sent to the ILLUMA-T ground operations teams at the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. There, engineers will determine if the data sent through this end-to-end relay process is accurate and of high-quality.

"NASA Goddard's primary role is to ensure successful laser communications and payload operations with LCRD and the space station," said ILLUMA-T Deputy Project Manager Matt Magsamen. "With LCRD actively conducting experiments that test and refine laser systems, we are looking forward to taking space communications capabilities to the next step and watching the success of this collaboration between the two payloads unfold."

Once ILLUMA-T transmits its first beam of laser light through its optical telescope to LCRD, the end-to-end laser communications experiment begins. After its experimental phase with LCRD, ILLUMA-T could become an operational part of the space station and substantially increase the amount of data NASA can send to and from the orbiting laboratory.

Transmitting data to relay satellites is no new feat for the space station. Since its completion in 1998 the orbiting laboratory has relied on the fleet of radio frequency relay satellites known as NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellites, which are part of the agency's Near Space Network. Relay satellites provide missions with constant contact with Earth because they can see the spacecraft and a ground antenna at the same time.

Laser communications could be a game-changer for researchers on Earth with science and technology investigations aboard the space station. Astronauts conduct research in areas like biological and physical sciences, technology, Earth observations, and more in the orbiting laboratory for the benefit of humanity. ILLUMA-T could provide enhanced data rates for these experiments and send more data back to Earth at once. In fact, at 1.2 Gbps, ILLUMA-T can transfer the amount of data equivalent to an average movie in under a minute.

The ILLUMA-T / LCRD end-to-end laser communications relay system is one small step for NASA, but one giant leap for space communications capabilities. Together with previous and future demonstrations, NASA is showcasing the benefits laser communications systems can have for both near-Earth and deep space exploration.

The goal of these demonstrations is to integrate laser communications as a capability within NASA's space communications networks: the Near Space Network and Deep Space Network. If you are a mission planner interested in using laser communications, please reach out to [email protected].

The ILLUMA-T payload is funded by the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. ILLUMA-T is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Partners include the International Space Station program office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts.

LCRD is led by Goddard and in partnership with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. LCRD is funded through NASA's Technology Demonstration Missions program, part of the Space Technology Mission Directorate, and the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Related Links
Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN)
Space Technology News - Applications and Research

Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters

The following news reports may link to other Space Media Network websites.
Tightbeam tech set to revolutionize Global Marine Internet through Aalyria-HICO Partnership
Livermore CA (SPX) Oct 25, 2023
Aalyria Technologies and HICO Investment Group are joining forces to revolutionize maritime communications, having recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The agreement sets forth the scope and aims of a partnership that seeks to introduce Aalyria's Tightbeam high-speed, free-space optics communications systems across the maritime sector in various global regions, including the Middle East, Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. Tightbeam technology leverages coherent light laser te ... read more

NASA improves GIANT optical navigation technology for future missions

UK and Axiom sign agreement on plans for historic human spaceflight mission

Cosmonauts to install equipment, check coolant leak on ISS during spacewalk

CRS-29 mission flies research to the Space Station

Tech agreement sets stage for U.S. private sector space launch sites in Australia

New US rocket Vulcan Centaur set to launch on December 24

Rocket Lab receives FAA authorization to resume launches

UK plans space mission after striking deal with US firm

Mystery of the Martian core solved

Sampling unique bedrock at the margin unit

Short but Sweet; Sols 3987-3988

Curiosity rover finds new evidence of ancient Mars rivers, a key signal for life

China able, ready to invite foreign astronauts to its space station

China discloses tasks of Shenzhou-17 crewed space mission

China launches new mission to space station

Shenzhou XVII space mission ready to launch

Follow NASA's Starling Swarm in Real Time

Fugro SpAARC's operations set to grow with new funding from Western Australian Govt

French Space Days India 2023 celebrates Indo-French collaboration

Urban Sky announces $9.75M Series A funding round

NASA tech breathes life into potentially game-changing antenna design

Goddard engineers improve NASA Lidar tech for exploration

Increasing transparency in critical materials price, supply, and demand forecasts

NASA-ISRO radar mission to provide dynamic view of forests, wetlands

ET phone Dublin? Astrophysicists scan the Galaxy for signs of life

Exoplanet-informed research helps search for radio technosignatures

Webb detects tiny quartz crystals in clouds of hot gas giant

Extreme habitats: Microbial life in Old Faithful Geyser

How NASA is protecting Europa Clipper from space radiation

NASA's Webb Discovers New Feature in Jupiter's Atmosphere

Plot thickens in hunt for ninth planet

Large mound structures on Kuiper belt object Arrokoth may have common origin

Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters


The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2023 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.