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Space Lasers Will Beam Astronauts’ Superfast Video Space Lasers Will Beam Astronauts’ Superfast Video

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Tech

Space Lasers Will Beam Astronauts’ Superfast Video

"It's like upgrading from dial-up to DSL."

(Courtesy of NASA)

photo of Alex Brown
April 14, 2014

As astronauts aboard the International Space Station send back more and more data, NASA is working to find a connection that can keep up with the flow of information. The answer: lasers.

On Monday, NASA is launching optical communication equipment aboard SpaceX-3. Once installed, it will allow ground crews to establish a "lasercom" connection with the ISS.

Just how fast is a laser-based space connection? Well, most space operations currently use radio frequencies that operate at 200 to 400 kilobits per second. The OPALS (Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science) connection will come in at 50 megabits per second.

 

"It's like upgrading from dial-up to DSL," said NASA's Bogdan Oaida.

By comparison, South Korea tops global average Internet speed at 22 megabits per second.

OPALS isn't NASA's first venture into laser communications. A ship called LADEE (which is about to crash) streamed video from the moon a few months ago at a whopping 622 megabits per second.

In the future, NASA hopes to transmit to and from Mars at a gigabit per second. That's the speed Google Fiber claims to offer, which it pegs at 100 times the speed of average broadband.

For now, astronauts will have to keep their super-fast streaming to short cat videos: OPALS will only provide 100 seconds of connection at a time as ground instruments hold a line of site with the station.

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