Lasers are miracle workers: they can restore sight, detect bombs and easily get you arrested. But who would've thunk that shooting lasers at the moon would help create a new record for data transmission?
By using pulsed lasers aimed directly at the moon, NASA was able to transmit data at a rate of 622 megabits per second, completely error-free. The laser-sharp data demonstration, named "Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD)" was deployed from a New Mexico ground station to a spacecraft 239,000 miles away. LLCD is NASA's first laser-powered two-way communication system and will likely replace the much slower radio wave transmission system used in the past. Previously, a speed of only 20 mbps was achieved by the same laser. LLCD is hosted aboard NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), launched in September of this year.
The lasers were developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory and are capable of improved image resolution and 3D video transmission between long distances. Though LLCD is currently a short-term experiment designed to test the effectivity of lasers for communication, it is an important precursor to NASA's long-term project, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD). As a part of NASA's Technology Demonstration Missions Program, LCRD is meant to help the space agency develop the laser-based technology into a reliable communication system that can withstand the limits of space.
Working on the successful results of this latest experiment, NASA may be releasing the laser technology "into operational service soon," though a recent press release states LCRD isn't scheduled to launch until 2017. But by then, who knows if lasers will even be cutting edge anymore.