NASA has revealed that its Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) set a record for transmitting data from the moon to Earth. The record was set on October 18, when the device transmitted data to Earth at 622 Mbps - six times the speed of other systems sent to the moon. The experiment represents the longest two-way laser communication in history.
The LLCD is an instrument on-board the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer satellite (LADEE). LADEE is a robotic probe launched back in September on a 100-day mission to examine the moon's atmosphere. In addition to the record-setting download rate, the LLCD instrument also demonstrated a 20Mbps upload rate.
“It was amazing how quickly we were able to acquire the first signals, especially from such a distance,” said Don Cornwell, LLCD manager. “I attribute this success to the great work accomplished over the years by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory (MIT/LL) and their partnership with NASA.”
According to NASA, the LLCD is half the weight of older radio instruments and uses 25% less power. The instrument has now been used to carry high-definition video between the Earth and the moon. The device can also provide constant measurements of the distance between the Earth and the moon.
“Just imagine the ability to transmit huge amounts of data that would take days in a matter of minutes," said Cornwell. "We believe laser-based communications is the next paradigm shift in future space communications.”
The LLCD instrument will continue to be tested throughout the next month. Researchers will be testing the laser communications during the day, during the different phases of the moon, and for different locations on Earth.
"LLCD is the first step on our roadmap toward building the next generation of space communication capability," said Badri Younes, deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation at NASA. "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."