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Having been delayed for two years, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) is ready to be launched no earlier than 4 December.
It will launch into space on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket aboard the Defense Department’s Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6).
The launch of the mission, which is now expected from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, was delayed due to numerous problems since the mission’s initial 2019 target.
However, investigators say the timing of the mission is still fast enough to benefit the Artemis program for a human landing on the Moon, by 2025.
“Technology is very important in many ways,” said Badri Younes, deputy administrator for NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation program.
The agency said the laser would allow 10 to 100 times more data to be sent back to Earth than using radio frequencies.
Both agencies and the commercial sector are planning multiple missions to the Moon in the 2020s using Artemis, the planned Gateway space station, and the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.
According to Younes, the laser transfer mission will also avoid the density problems that interfere with the radio frequency spectrum.
This problem has accelerated due to the growth of megaconstellations of satellites in low-Earth orbit and companies frequently pose regulatory challenges regarding each spectrum.
The demonstration will not be as far as the moon, but will travel into geosynchronous orbit at 22,236 miles (35,786 kilometers) to test laser communications for at least two years.
The demonstration is a continuation of other agencies’ laser technology trials in recent years as NASA seeks to operationalize it for astronaut use.
NASA officials noted the new mission will take much longer than other successful short attempts to change broadband speeds.
Unlike the International Space Station’s four-month Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) experiment in 2014 or a short CubeSat-based demonstration in 2017 called Optical Communication and Sensor Demonstration (OCSD).
“This new system will not only provide higher data transmission speeds, but also optimize what we call SWAP — or size, weight, and power,” said Trudy Kortes, director of technology demonstrations at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
He added that it would be smaller and more voluminous, weigh less and use less power than it currently has.
“We have a specific set of mission requirements, and we have commercial partners who can meet those requirements,” said Dave Israel, principal investigator of the experiment at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
“Then we ended up adding additional requirements to our payload that would allow for some further experimentation,” continued Israel.
“Then we can no longer be accommodated on the platform of that commercial provider.”
A possibly unexpected side effect of the wait is the massive growth in the SpaceX Starlink constellation, which began testing its own laser communication system between satellites starting in batches in January.
“Terminals on Starlink are incompatible. So that there will be no change between the systems that they can predict, “said the NASA official.
That’s NASA’s plan to test space laser technology to speed up communications space. (Suara.com/ Dythia Novianty).