NASA's Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) system has set a new record for data transmission by beaming data over the 239,000 miles distance between the Moon and the Earth at download rates of up to 622mbps through a pulsed laser beam.
Hosted on board NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), the LLCD is a short-period trial and the predecessor to the space agency's long-term demonstration, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), which is scheduled for launch in 2017.
NASA space communications and navigation (SCaN) deputy associate administrator Badri Younes said that LLCD is the first step on the agency's roadmap toward building the next generation of space communication capability.
"We are encouraged by the results of the demonstration to this point, and we are confident we are on the right path to introduce this new capability into operational service soon," Younes said.
Using laser rather than radio waves to offer two-way communication, the LLCD sends back data to Earth much faster than conventional radio data links, where base stations in the US and Spain can capture its signals.
LLCD also set a transmission record for an error-free data upload rate of 20Mbps from the main ground station in New Mexico to the spacecraft now orbiting the moon.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center LLCD manager Don Cornwell said that the goal of LLCD is to validate and build confidence in this technology so that future missions will consider using it.
"This unique ability developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory has incredible application possibilities," Cornwell said.
The future LCRD would be able to transfer 1.25gbps of encoded traffic, or 2.88gbps of un-coded information through the use of laser equipment, which would also allow new probes to return petabytes of data about other planets in the Solar System.