about us

Do you ever wish your webpages would load faster?
Do you remember the days of dial-up and how long it would take a webpage to load?

The internet is no longer limited by the slow speed of dial-up connections, so why should our satellites be?



Compared to the days of dial-up, today's web-pages load at lightning speed over high-speed cable and fiber optic lines. Just like you need your web-pages load quickly, this need for instant data applies to sending and receiving data from spacecraft. NASA is moving away from their version of dial-up (radio frequency-based communication), to their own version of high-speed Internet: optical communication. On the heels of LLCD, LCRD will demonstrate sustained optical communication links over a multi-year trial period, as NASA continues to develop optical communication satellites that will one day bring to life an entire satellite network that uses optical communication.

How LCRD would work:
The Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) will demonstrate long-awaited operational capability for a space-based laser communications relay. One of three projects selected by NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist (OCT) for a trial run, the demonstration involves a hosted payload on a commercial communications satellite developed by Space Systems/Loral, of Palo Alto, Calif., and two specially equipped ground stations in California and New Mexico. The demonstration is expected to operate for two years. It consists of two optical communications terminals in space and will enable real-time forwarding and storage of data up to 1.25 Gbps (coded) / 2.880 Gbps (uncoded).

Why do we need Optical Comm:
The Laser Communication Relay Demonstration (LCRD) will completely change the way we communicate mission-critical data, video and other information. Future optical communications systems will be able to transmit data at rates 10 to 100 times faster than radio-based communication. For example, at the current limit of 100-Mbps for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), it takes a few minutes to transmit a single high-resolution image back to earth. In some instances, this bottleneck can limit scientists' ability to study the moon. An equivalent LRO mission outfitted with an optical communications transmitter would have the capacity to transmit data back to Earth at more than ten times that speed, reducing the single image transmission time to just a few seconds. NASA needs optical communication for this very reason. With missions developing more highly-detailed science and larger volumes of data, radio-based communication links can be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data being pushed to the ground, providing a need for higher data rates that can only be achieved with optical communication.

LCRD will, however, do much more than demonstrate the potential for increased data rates. When it begins operation, it will allow NASA to demonstrate both deep-space and near-Earth relay modulation techniques, enabling more reliable message transmission everywhere. This new technology will affect a variety of NASA’s space-based platforms, from exploratory spacecraft at the edge of the solar system and in orbit around other planets to satellites in close proximity to Earth. While in operation, LCRD will also enable the gathering of information about the longevity and durability of space-based optical systems and their hardware, as well as ensuring the accuracy of the lasers that carry messages to the ground. As a critical step in revitalizing and improving the way we transmit data through space, LCRD will enable researchers to find new ways to operate a space communications network that was first developed in the 1950s and 1980s. The next generation of space-based networks will receive substantial conceptual and operational benefits from this revolution in communication. LCRD will lay the foundation for all future communications as NASA continues pioneering space exploration in the twenty-first century.   

LCRD is NASA's first, long-duration optical communications mission. The team is working to fly and validate a reliable, capable and cost-effective optical communications technology directly applicable to the next generation of NASA's space communications network. LCRD is expected to be a cost-effective way to demonstrate optical communication. LCRD will utilize existing systems and minimal modifications to existing flight systems to fully characterize high data rate optical communication in a spaceflight environment. It will provide two years of continuous high-data-rate optical communications in an operational environment, demonstrating that optical communications can meet NASA's and other agencies' growing need for higher-data-rates and by enabling more energy-efficient, lighter communications systems on a spacecraft. LCRD will demonstration new ways for future NASA missions to maintain their vital communication links to Earth, that their communication equipment will be built to last, and that they will be able to support the next generation of exploration and discovery. 

The LCRD team is led by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. Partners include NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Mass.. LCRD is a Technology Demonstration Mission funded through NASA's Space Technology Program and Space Communications and Navigation Program. Utilizing commercial partnerships, LCRD is expected to fly as a hosted payload on a commercial communications satellite developed by Space Systems/Loral, of Palo Alto, Calif.