NASA Launches International First Ever Laser Communication Experiment

In a small room in NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, the nation’s scientists and engineers are primed to test a new technology that could change the space program for the better.

The Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, or LISA, will be a world-first test of laser communication. Originally designed for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is searching for black holes, LISA was switched over to communications by its makers, Lockheed Martin, on Monday, September 10th.

“At the L.A. Air Show this spring, NASA shared our vision for LISA. Now that it’s launched and actually up there, we are very excited,” said NASA spokesperson Paul Wright.

From about 250,000 miles away, LISA will send a signal back to Earth, at incredibly high speeds of 100 gigabits per second. So that it doesn’t cause interference from normal radio signals, LISA will be bonded to the back of a specialized spacecraft, at an altitude of 112 miles. The satellite will then guide the spacecraft down into a “silent” orbit, where it will capture the light of the constellation of the stars called Alpha Centauri. Each letter of the binary stars will disappear, only to reappear as a pulse of light. The aircraft will then use this “power of stars” to communicate to another spacecraft, which will then relay the beam back to Earth, allowing the first ever worldwide communication. The mission has a 2030s timeline and it’s the first use of a laser in space. In space, the distance between planets and stars is massive. In fact, it is closer to 124.7 billion miles, making light photons such as light and x-rays the property of the most distant objects in space.

Concerns that human flight will not last beyond 1,000 years keep NASA researching advances in communications and applications, which are more affordable and practical than propulsion systems. “In our current flying vehicles, we are constrained by the limits of size, weight, and long-distance travel,” said Wright.

Prior to this year, LISA has only been tested in a vacuum chamber. The optical communication module and antenna for the mission will be made in Hawthorne, California.

Despite the revolutionary technology LISA will deliver, the team behind it acknowledges there is still work to be done. “Using space-based optical communications to communicate is like having a speaker and microphone in one room with thousands of people listening to it. We have to put a lot of details together in order to work with that different voice, and it’s not a magic bullet yet,” said Wright.

Details of the new mission will be presented to the public at a public meeting on September 18th, 2019.

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More details on NASA’s New Mission to Try Laser Communication in Space:

LISA will use laser communication to send information to another spacecraft and receive the burst of light of Alpha Centauri. — NASA (@NASA) September 10, 2018

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