Moon Lasers Are Creating the Galaxy’s Fastest Internet

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NASA's LADEE lunar orbiter gets Internet via laser.
National Journal
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Alex Brown
Feb. 18, 2014, 7:19 a.m.

Hong Kong has the world’s fast­est In­ter­net. In­ter­net on the moon is 10 times faster.

How do our lun­ar-ex­plor­ing space­ships get buf­fer-free video? Lasers. NASA and MIT are shoot­ing “lasers full of In­ter­net” to a ship named LADEE that’s ex­plor­ing the moon’s at­mo­sphere. Ac­cord­ing to NASA, speeds have reached 622 mega­bits per second (Hong Kong tops out at 63.6).

Right now, the agency is us­ing a pulsed laser beam to trans­mit a pair of HD video sig­nals to and from the moon. The 239,000 miles between the New Mex­ico ground sta­tion and the moon marks the “longest two-way laser com­mu­nic­a­tion ever demon­strated,” ac­cord­ing to NASA.

In one test, NASA sent an HD video of Bill Nye (the sci­ence guy) from a Mas­sachu­setts sta­tion to the New Mex­ico trans­mit­ters to the moon — and back through the same route — with just a sev­en-second delay. It takes 1.3 seconds for a sig­nal to make the one-way trip to the moon.

NASA says the in­form­a­tion it’s re­ceiv­ing now is so pre­cise it can de­term­ine LADEE‘s dis­tance from Earth to with­in half an inch.

“Sup­pose you wanted to make a Google Maps im­age of Mars, and not even as crisp as Google Maps,” NASA’s Don Bor­o­son told the In­sti­tute of Elec­tric­al and Elec­tron­ics En­gin­eers. “It would take dec­ades to send that much data back with ra­dio sys­tems we have now. If you had a laser com­mu­nic­a­tion sys­tem with a 50-times-high­er data rate, it would take tens of weeks. Then you could send all the data for a Google Map in one year.”

NASA says test­ing will soon ex­pand to in­clude sig­nals from a European Space Agency sta­tion in Spain. Later tests will ex­pand to in­clude day­light op­er­a­tions and dif­fer­ent cycles of the moon.


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