Laser Communication Relay Demonstration (LCRD)


NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) is the agency’s first two-way optical communications relay system and is showcasing the benefits of optical communications.

LCRD launching from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station Credit: NASA

On December 7, 2021, at 5:19 a.m. EST, LCRD was launched as a hosted payload aboard the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6) by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. As a relay satellite, missions in space will send their data over laser links to LCRD, which will then transmit it down to ground stations on Earth.

Using optical communications, LCRD will send data to Earth from geosynchronous orbit at 1.2 gigabits-per-second (Gbps). At this speed and distance, you could download a movie in under a minute.

Since the dawn of space exploration, NASA has used radio frequency systems to communicate with astronauts and spacecraft. However, as space missions generate and collect more data, the need for enhanced communications capabilities increases.

LCRD uses infrared light rather than radio waves to encode and transmit data to and from Earth. The infrared light used for optical communications allows missions to pack more data into each transmission. More data yields more data and discoveries.

Another benefit to optical communications is that it requires less size, weight, and power than comparable radio systems. These capabilities will have broad applications to the future of human exploration and scientific discovery.

LCRD’s first user will be a terminal on the International Space Station. However, prior to mission support, LCRD will test its optical capabilities with a variety of experiments, refining the technology.

Quick Facts

LCRD launched on December 7, 2021 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.  Credit: ULA
LCRD is a hosted payload aboard the U.S. Space Force’s STPSat-6 satellite.
LCRD communicates with two ground stations in California and Hawaii via laser beams to demonstrate the long-term operational effectiveness of optical communications
LCRD is a follow-on mission to NASA’s Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration mission in 2013.
Later in its mission, LCRD will communicate with the Integrated LCRD Low-Earth-Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal (ILLUMA-T) on the International Space Station – this will be the first operational optical communications system for human spaceflight!