NASA recently completed the construction of its second optical ground station (OGS-2) in Haleakala, Hawaii, which will allow the agency to use the laser communication system for its next space missions. Technology has the ability to send more data to Earth than ever before.
Sending data to Earth’s space (and vice versa) using infrared lasers is one of the institution’s main bets to improve the quality of communications in missions. This system has several advantages over radio frequency, currently used.
In optical communication, it is possible to obtain an increase in data transfer rates of 10 to 100 times compared to radio transmissions, according to NASA. In addition, it has lower energy requirements, size and weight, helping to improve battery life and resulting in more compact and lightweight equipment.
With such improvements, it will be possible to take advantage of better resolution images, for example, offering scientists an even more detailed and unprecedented view of the Solar System.
Technology debuts in 2021
The US space agency has used laser data transmission on other occasions, but to a limited extent. Thus, the system will be fully tested only in 2021, when the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) mission will be launched, which will feature fully optical retransmission equipment.
Even with all the advantages of technology, NASA already knows that it will have to deal with a problem: the inability of lasers to pass through clouds. That is, in case of bad weather, communication with the ship can be interrupted.
This was one of the reasons for choosing Hawaii, where there is clear skies for much of the year, to install the OGS-2 station. There is also another station of this type, OGS-1, which is in California and can replace the main one, if the sky is cloudy over there.