Military Embedded Systems

NASA embarks upon laser-communications system for spacecraft


April 03, 2017

Lisa Daigle

Assistant Managing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

NASA embarks upon laser-communications system for spacecraft
Artist's concept: NASA

NASA GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER, Md. NASA has launched a program aimed at developing a laser communications system for its Orion spacecraft, the vehicle the agency intends to use for its future manned missions to deep space.

NASA says that the Laser-Enhanced Mission and Navigation Operational Services (LEMNOS) system will equip astronauts in space with optimized, fast communications services, enabling them to communicate quickly with people on Earth. The agency selected Goddard Space Flight Center’s exploration and space-communications projects division to build LEMNOS in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory (Lexington, Massachusetts).

Don Cornwell, director of the Advanced Communication and Navigation division at the Space Communications and Navigation program office at NASA headquarters, said of the project: “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.” According to NASA, laser communications -- also known as optical communications -- will be able to provide data rates as much as a hundred times higher than currently used systems.

The project has just gotten underway at Goddard, with a goal to test LEMNOS for the first time on the second flight of Orion beyond the moon, which is set to occur some time in 2021. Scheduled for one week with the option to extend for a longer mission, NASA believes that it will be the right opportunity to test the laser communications system, operating it continuously for up to an hour a day.



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