Laser space comms was ‘missing link’ for space science instruments

May 15, 2023
NASA and MIT Lincoln Labs have achieved a milestone for laser space communications with 200 Gbit/s throughput on a space-to-ground optical link between a CubeSat in orbit and Earth.

Thanks to lasers, which make it possible to pack information into oscillations of light waves instead of radio waves, space communications just got a whole lot faster.

NASA and its partners at MIT’s Lincoln Lab (Lexington, MA) and Terran Orbital (Boca Raton, FL) recently designed, built, and sent into space the TeraByte Infrared Delivery (TBIRD) payload aboard a tiny CubeSat, and it’s now in a “fixed” position relative the sun so it passes over a ground station on Earth at the same time twice daily (see video).

During these 6-minute pass-overs, TBIRD can send terabytes of data down to the ground stations—a single terabyte can hold about 500 hours of high-definition video.

The same team that set a record of 100 Gbit/s in June 2022, set a new one on April 28, 2023: 200 Gbit/s.

Achieving 100 Gbit/s in June 2022 was groundbreaking, “and now we’ve doubled that data rate—this capability will change the way we communicate in space,” says Beth Keer, mission manager for TBIRD at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “Just imagine the power of space science instruments when they can be designed to fully take advantage of the advancements in detector speeds and sensitivities—furthering what artificial intelligence can do with huge amounts of data. Laser communications is the ‘missing link’ that will enable the science discoveries of the future.”

The TBIRD payload was designed and built at MIT’s Lincoln Lab.



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LFW Staff

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