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Waspie_Dwarf

ESA to catch laser beam from Moon mission

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ESA to catch laser beam from Moon mission

In 2013, a NASA satellite will beam digital signals to an ESA receiving station fast enough to stream dozens of movies at once. The test will help to demonstrate the readiness of next-generation optical links for future data-intensive deep-space missions.

Even today’s highest-tech satellites still employ radio waves for communication back to ground stations on Earth, meaning that satellites require large and bulky antenna dishes.

But if all goes as planned next year, ESA will help to demonstrate that communication at optical wavelengths from ground to space and back is a mature – and very fast – technology and ready to be used in upcoming missions around Earth and in the Solar System.

The joint ESA/NASA activity is part of NASA’s Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) project, which will use a new optical terminal flying on NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer –LADEE – spacecraft to communicate with a trio of stations on Earth.

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Laser communications set for Moon mission

An advanced laser system offering vastly faster data speeds is now ready for linking with spacecraft beyond our planet following a series of crucial ground tests. Later this year, ESA’s observatory in Spain will use the laser to communicate with a NASA Moon orbiter.

The laboratory testing paves the way for a live space demonstration in October, once NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer – LADEE – begins orbiting the Moon.

LADEE carries a terminal that can transmit and receive pulses of laser light. ESA’s Optical Ground Station on Tenerife will be upgraded with a complementary unit and, together with two US ground terminals, will relay data at unprecedented rates using infrared light beams at a wavelength similar to that used in fiber-optic cables on Earth.

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