Laser Enhanced Mission Communications Navigation and Operational Services Pipeline (LEMNOS)
On NASA’s journey to the moon, the Orion spacecraft will be integral. It looks remarkably similar to the Apollo capsule, which placed humanity on the moon in 1969, but Orion hosts many new, cutting-edge technologies and capabilities. Among them, the Laser-Enhanced Mission Communication Navigation and Operational Services (LEMNOS) Pipeline project office will provide Orion with data rates as much as 10 times higher than possible through current systems
The Orion Exploration Mission-2 Optical Communications System (O2O) project, managed by LEMNOS, leverages optical communications technology for use on the next-generation Orion spacecraft. The terminal will enable live, 4K ultra-high-definition video from the moon, as well as enhanced science data transmission and more. By comparison, the Apollo cameras filmed only 10 frames per second in a grainy black-and-white. O2O will provide Orion with a “giant leap” in communications technology, allowing optical communications to join radio for NASA’s journey to the Moon and beyond.
After the project’s test ride on Artemis II, the LEMNOS Pipeline project will provide optical communications terminals to subsequent Orion exploration missions. In addition, the LEMNOS Pipeline will be able to provide a variety of terminals to lunar exploration and science missions from LEO to lunar to L1/L2.
The LEMNOS Pipeline projects will utilize optical communications technology, making the Orion Exploration Missions some of the first to use optical in an operational environment. Optical communications’ benefits for these long-duration human exploration missions are immense. Not only will the new communications system offer much higher data rates – enabling vast amounts of data to be transmitted to Earth more quickly than ever before – but it will enable astronauts to connect with their families and society through 4K video and more.
Additionally, optical communications offers reduced size, weight and power requirements. A smaller system leaves more room for science instruments, a weight reduction can mean a less expensive launch and reduced power allows batteries to last longer. These benefits will be crucial for exploration missions on which space and power is at a premium.
The LEMNOS Pipeline and the O2O project build on a legacy of cutting-edge optical communications projects undertaken at Goddard. NASA’s first optical communications payload, the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD), was created and managed at Goddard.
Launched in 2013, LLCD had direct applicability to O2O and its successors, proving optical communications from the Moon not only possible, but an improvement over existing radio communications systems. Flying as part of the Lunar Atmosphere Dust and Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft, LLCD achieved data rates as high as 622 Megabits per second, six times higher than the best radio communications systems.
ESC is also responsible for the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration, which will be the first test of laser communications in a geosynchronous relay communications system.