The Moon Has Faster Download Speeds Than Your Home Computer
Think you've got fast broadband? NASA just sent a signal from the moon to the earth 207 times faster than the average American can download an iTunes track.
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They did it using a laser beam, a form of communication NASA hasn't ever used up until now. This week scientists announced that they'd pulsed a laser signal the 239,000 miles between the earth and the moon. It was the first time NASA passed two-way communication using something other than radio waves and would allow them to share way more complicated messages, like, say, 3-D videos from deep space.
By encoding data onto a beam of laser light, scientists accomplished a download speed of 622 megabits per second. And the upload speed from the earth to a satelite orbiting the moon was 20 Mbps. By comparison, the median download speed for home computers in the United States was 3 Mbps in 2010, according to the group Affordable High-Speed Internet for America.
"LLCD is the first step on our roadmap toward building the next generation of space communication capability," said Badri Younes, who's in charge of space communication and navigation for 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."
Radio frequency communication has been NASA's modus operandi since it began shooting things outside our atmosphere in the 1950s. But now they say radios aren't cutting it. They need to send more information faster and farther. So they began to develop a schedule of new technologies demonstrations, one of which was this laser burst, called the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration, or LLCD. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed the software and hardware.
"The goal of LLCD is to validate and build confidence in this technology so that future missions will consider using it," said Don Cornwell, LLCD manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., where they operated the system.
For their next act: the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration. It's more or less the same thing, but they intend to send more signals over a longer period of time. Cornwell said the quality of virtual information that deep-space explorers shoot back to earth will give humans a "telepresence" in the farthest reaches of the solar system.
The Europeans, NASA says, have already beaten the U.S. to space laser communications. They launched their Alphasat orbiter this year, but it flies relatively low, nowhere near as far as the moon.
And all of this technology may have everyday applications, too.
"There are commercial companies that use (or wish to use) very similar technology to do line-of-site laser communications to provide internet service to hard-to-reach places or between buildings," Cornwell told iScienceTimes. "There is also a company that is proposing to put up a network of satellites around the Earth that would use laser communication to connect multiple places around the globe and might also provide broadband to ships and airplanes."
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