Remember the LADEE? Launched just last month, the LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) has accomplished quite a bit. NASA has successfully tested the LLCD (Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration) added to the instruments aboard the lunar probe by successfully communicating via lasers from lunar orbit to stationary sites on Earth in the US and Spain.
With only about 70 days of life left before the LADEE is due to dive into the moon to its death (sacrificing itself in an effort to keep clean the orbital path) LADEE besides measuring the Moon's scarce atmosphere while in orbit, has managed to shoot back laser data. Located on her hull are several lasers which are designed to send data to various stations here on Earth.
Here on Earth base stations using pivoting 15 cm telescopes as transmitters and four 40 cm reflective telescopes as receivers are able to send & receive. The data was fired both to & from the moon at rates up to 622Mbps, but its cousin, the LCRD - launching in 2017, is expected to handle either 1.25 Gbps encoded or 2.88 Gbps non-encoded. Unlike the LADEE mission’s 100 days life expectancy, the LCRD is due to live two years, testing a new generation of space communications technology as well as ability of the technology to survive long-time missions in space. If the LCRD is able to survive for an extended period of time, the communications may be considered for NASA probes that venture far from Earth enabling a smoother and quicker communications & update.
Important to keep in mind is that communications with a probe on say Mars, perhaps the Curiosity, experience a delay of anywhere from 13 to 24 minutes. That’s uni-directional. Next NASA needs to work out the response and send that back. Figure an hour to an hour and a half to get a command to move forward two feet or test a sample.
Now expand your view to other worlds that are further out. Titan delays for communications are in the neighborhood of 40 minutes. For each step further into the solar system & galaxy, even Universe, the communications that NASA has developed, the LADEE has tested, and the LCRD will further test will become very necessary.
Good job LADEE & Congratulations NASA!
Communications of the 21 century have arrived