Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. 24/7 Space News .

OPALS: Light Beams Let Data Rates Soar
by Staff Writers
Pasadena CA (JPL) Dec 10, 2014

This artist's rendition shows OPALS operating from the International Space Station. Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

You may know opals as fiery gemstones, but something special called OPALS is floating above us in space. On the International Space Station, the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) is demonstrating how laser communications can speed up the flow of information between Earth and space, compared to radio signals.

"OPALS has shown that space-to-ground laser communications transmissions are practical and repeatable," said Matthew Abrahamson, OPALS mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

"As a bonus, OPALS has collected an enormous amount of data to advance the science of sending lasers through the atmosphere. We look forward to continuing our testing of this technology, which sends information to and from space faster than with radio signals."

Laser communication science has Earth benefits, too. Faster downlinks from space could mean people receive higher-definition video from both satellites orbiting our planet and spacecraft farther into space, including NASA's Mars rovers. Laser communication technology also has the potential to provide faster Internet connections in remote areas on Earth. Anyone with an interest in high-speed, high-quality downloads may benefit from this technology -- including researchers, engineers and consumers.

OPALS has completed its four-month prime mission. In the next phase of the mission, OPALS scientists will look at how adaptive optics can increase the efficiency of the optical communications link. The lessons learned from OPALS will make future optical links more robust and reliable.

OPALS launched to the space station aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule in April. The payload was able to establish an optical communications link when its laser locked onto a ground beacon emitted by the Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory's ground station at JPL's Table Mountain Observatory in Wrightwood, California. The technology uses a beacon with four individual lasers to average the effects of atmospheric turbulence.

"Four lasers from the ground station travel through the sky toward the space station. Under clear, dark background conditions, it's very easy for the payload to acquire the ground beacon. Daylight conditions have proven more challenging, but we are working on increasing capabilities during the day as well, through software enhancements," Abrahamson said.

OPALS had 18 successful passes from Table Mountain: nine during daylight and nine during nighttime. The payload was able to track the ground receiver with stunning accuracy.

"At times, weather was a challenge, with clouds obscuring the lasers. The payload showed the capability to reacquire the signal after cloud blockage," Abrahamson said.

OPALS had its first success on June 5, a night pass lasting 148 seconds. It sent a copy of the same video (with the message, "Hello, World!") every 3.5 seconds. With traditional downlink methods, the 175-megabit video would take 10 minutes to transmit.

OPALS has also downlinked text. Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" was transmitted multiple times from the payload to the ground in June.

In July, OPALS sent a high-definition video of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing, honoring the 45th anniversary of that historic event. This was the first video uploaded from the ground to OPALS after launch.

"It took 12 hours to uplink the video using existing infrastructure, and OPALS downlinked it in just seven seconds," Abrahamson said.

The OPALS team downlinked engineering data, between 200 and 300 megabytes in size. Using standard methods, it would take about three hours to send this data; but with OPALS it took only 20 seconds. The data were reconstructed completely without encoding, highlighting the optical link's low bit-error rate -- the rate of errors relative to the total number of bits.

International collaboration has also been important to the mission. OPALS attempted a handful of passes with the German Aerospace Center's ground station in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, and with the European Space Agency's ground station in Tenerife, Spain. These passes had varying levels of success.

"We're finding that differing weather patterns and geometry variations are proving to be challenging. We've had a half dozen or so pass attempts with varying levels of success, and we are looking to continuing these collaborations in the future," Abrahamson said.

"OPALS is going to change the way we communicate with and build spacecraft in the future," Abrahamson said.

Thanks for being here;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.
SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5 Billed Monthly

paypal only


Related Links
Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS)
Station at NASA
Station and More at Roscosmos
S.P. Korolev RSC Energia
Watch NASA TV via Space.TV
Space Station News at Space-Travel.Com

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

ISS Enables Interplanetary Space Exploration
Washington DC (SPX) Dec 05, 2014
If necessity is the mother of invention, then survival in space breeds many "children." These children are the research and technologies demonstrated aboard the International Space Station. For 16 years, the station has provided researchers a platform in microgravity where they perform experiments and test technologies to allow humans to travel farther into the solar system than ever befor ... read more

UK Plans to Drill Into Moon, Explore Feasibility of Manned Base

Carnegie Mellon Unveils Lunar Rover "Andy"

Why we should mine the moon

Young Volcanoes on the Moon

Mars mountain may have arisen from lake sediments: NASA

Mars is a Four-Letter Word

Curiosity finds clues to how water helped shape Mars

Flash-Memory Reformat Planned

NASA's New Orion Spacecraft Completes First Spaceflight Test

Lockheed Martin-built Orion takes first steps on deep space journey

Orion Flight 'Milestone' in Obama's Space Policy: White House

FinalFlight to Scatter Ashes in the Stratosphere over Australia

Service module of China's returned lunar orbiter reaches L2 point

China Launches Second Disaster Relief Satellite

China expects to introduce space law around 2020

China launches new remote sensing satellite

ATV views Space Station as never before

OPALS: Light Beams Let Data Rates Soar

ISS Enables Interplanetary Space Exploration

NASA's CATS Eyes Clouds, Smoke and Dust from the Space Station

Ariane 5 delivers DIRECTV-14 and GSAT-16 to orbit

ADS to provide key elements for Vega launcher

Soyuz Installed at Baikonur, Expected to Launch Wednesday

Europe to build new-generation Ariane 6 rocket

Finding infant earths and potential life just got easier

Queen's scientist leads study of 'Super-Earth'

Finding infant earths and potential life just got easier

'Mirage Earth' exoplanets may have burned away chances for life

Marie Curie gets advice from Albert Einstein in lost letter

Airbus Defence and Space signs contract for Microwave Sounder instruments

Geckos are sticky without effort

Researchers develop clothes that can monitor and transmit biomedical info on wearers

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - 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. 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. Privacy Statement All images and articles appearing on Space Media Network have been edited or digitally altered in some way. Any requests to remove copyright material will be acted upon in a timely and appropriate manner. Any attempt to extort money from Space Media Network will be ignored and reported to Australian Law Enforcement Agencies as a potential case of financial fraud involving the use of a telephonic carriage device or postal service.