Astronauts may soon be able to communicate faster to and from space as NASA's advanced laser communications system called LEMNOS has brought speedy connections closer to the reality.
Imagine being able to watch 4K ultra-high-definition (UHD) video as humans take their first steps on another planet. Or imagine astronauts picking up a cell phone and video-conferencing their family and friends from 34 million miles away, just the same as they might on Earth. LEMNOS, Laser-Enhanced Mission and Navigation Operational Services, may make these capabilities and more a reality in the near future.
The project was named for the island, Lemnos, where the mythical hero Orion regained his sight, according to Greek lore. Similarly, LEMNOS will provide sight for NASA's next-generation Orion spacecraft.
"Laser communications will revolutionize data return from destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, enhance outreach opportunities from outer space and improve astronauts' quality of life on long space missions," said scientist Don Cornwell. "As we strive to put humans on Mars for the first time, it's imperative that we develop a communications system to support these activities at the highest level possible."
Laser communications, also known as optical communications, is the latest space communications technology, able to provide data rates as much as a hundred times higher than current systems. This means, for example, that astronauts could send and receive ultra-high-definition video from the surface of Mars. No mission to Mars has yet had that capability. Something that basic could have wide-reaching applications, allowing the American public to "ride along" as our astronauts explore deep space while also enabling scientific discoveries with much higher resolution images and data.
"As we started thinking about the possibility of laser communications on Orion, I spoke with the flight controllers at Johnson Space Center who are developing the communications plan for Orion's deep space missions. They were talking about enabling communications capabilities that we take for granted, but that are so foreign in space, from streaming scientific data and video in real time, to allowing astronauts to watch the Super Bowl or keep up with an election," said Mark Brumfield, deputy program manager of implementation for ESC.
He added, "Being able to connect with society could have great impacts to astronauts' mental health during the mission. Right now, they wouldn't be able to make those connections in a meaningful way, but optical communications will give us that capability." (ANI)