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  NASA LCRD to advance laser communications

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Author Topic:   NASA LCRD to advance laser communications
Robert Pearlman

Posts: 47505
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 03-22-2017 10:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
NASA Taking First Steps Toward High-speed Space 'Internet'

NASA is developing a long-term technology demonstration of what could become the high-speed internet of the sky.

The Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) will help NASA understand the best ways to operate laser communications systems. They could enable much higher data rates for connections between spacecraft and Earth, such as scientific data downlink and astronaut communications.

"LCRD is the next step in implementing NASA's vision of using optical communications for both near-Earth and deep space missions," said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, which leads the LCRD project. "This technology has the potential to revolutionize space communications, and we are excited to partner with the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate's Space Communications and Navigation program office, MIT Lincoln Labs and the U.S. Air Force on this effort."

Above: An engineer examines the gimbal and latch assembly component of one of LCRD's two optical module assembly. The optical module, when combined with the modems and controller electronics, make up the LCRD's flight payload. (NASA GSFC/Sandra Vilevac)

Laser communications, also known as optical communications, encodes data onto a beam of light, which is then transmitted between spacecraft and eventually to Earth terminals. This technology offers data rates that are 10 to 100 times better than current radio-frequency (RF) communications systems. Just as important, laser communication systems can be much smaller than radio systems, allowing the spacecraft communication systems to have lower size, weight and power requirements. Such capability will become critically important as humans embark on long journeys to the moon, Mars and beyond.

"LCRD is designed to operate for many years and will allow NASA to learn how to optimally use this disruptive new technology," said Don Cornwell, director of the Advanced Communication and Navigation division of the Space Communications and Navigation program office at NASA Headquarters, which leads the development of the instrument. "We are also designing a laser terminal for the International Space Station that will use LCRD to relay data from the station to the ground at gigabit-per-second data rates. We plan to fly this new terminal in 2021, and once tested, we hope that many other Earth-orbiting NASA missions will also fly copies of it to relay their data through LCRD to the ground."

The mission builds upon the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD), a very successful pathfinder mission that flew aboard the Lunar Atmosphere Dust and Environment Explorer in 2013. While LLCD was first to demonstrate high-data-rate laser communications beyond low-Earth orbit, LCRD will demonstrate the technology's operational longevity and reliability. The mission will also test LCRD's capabilities within many different environmental conditions and operational scenarios.

"We've learned a lot over the years about radio-frequency communications and how it works to make the most of the technology," Dave Israel, LCRD's principal investigator, said about the current communications system. "With LCRD, we'll have the opportunity to put laser communications through its paces to test the performance over different weather conditions and times of day to get that experience."

LCRD is designed to function between two and five years. Two ground terminals equipped with laser modems located in Table Mountain, California, and in Hawaii will demonstrate communications capability to and from LCRD, which will be located in an orbit that matches Earth's rotation, called a geosynchronous orbit, between the two stations.

The LCRD payload consists of two identical optical terminals connected by a component called a space switching unit, which acts as a data router. The space switching unit is also connected to a radio-frequency downlink.

Above: Engineers are currently testing the optical module assemblies on the Goddard-built optical test bench to ensure pointing accuracy during the upcoming mission. (NASA GSFC/Sandra Vilevac)

The modems translate digital data into laser or radio-frequency signals and back again. Once they convert the data to laser light, the optical module will beam the data to Earth. To do so, the module must be perfectly pointed to receive and transmit the data. The controller electronics (CE) module commands actuators to help point and steady the telescope despite any movement or vibration on the spacecraft.

LCRD recently successfully passed a key decision point review and has moved on to the integration and test stage of development, during which engineers will ensure each component will behave as intended after the instrument launches. Launch is scheduled to occur in summer 2019.

The LCRD team is led by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Partners include NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and MIT's Lincoln Laboratory.

LCRD is a project within NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate's Technology Demonstration Mission, which performs system level demonstrations of cross-cutting technologies and capabilities and bridges the gap between scientific and engineering challenges and the technological innovations needed to overcome them, enabling robust new space missions like LCRD.

Robert Pearlman

Posts: 47505
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 12-07-2021 08:26 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
LCRD Is On Its Way!

The Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) mission has successfully launched, completed two Centaur engine burns, and is on its way!

Liftoff occurred at 5:19 a.m. EST (1019 GMT) on Tuesday, Dec. 7.

The Department of Defense’s (DOD) Space Test Program 3 (STP-3) mission sent two satellites including the Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6) spacecraft, which hosted two NASA payloads — LCRD and the NASA-U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Ultraviolet Spectro-Coronagraph (UVSC) Pathfinder – to space.

Robert Pearlman

Posts: 47505
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 12-07-2021 12:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
NASA's Laser Communications Tech, Science Experiment Safely in Space

NASA's Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) and a NASA-U.S. Naval Research Laboratory space weather payload to study the Sun's radiation lifted off at 5:19 a.m. EST on Tuesday, Dec. 7.

The payloads launched aboard the Space Test Program Satellite-6 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida as part of the U.S. Space Force's Space Test Program 3 mission.

LCRD will demonstrate NASA's first two-way laser relay communications system, sending and receiving data over invisible infrared lasers, which can enable data rates 10 to 100 times greater than radio frequency systems traditionally used by spacecraft.

"This launch introduces an exciting new technology for space missions," said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Demonstrating this innovative way of communicating with spacecraft will open the door for this technology to expand the horizons of future space missions."

The other NASA science payload that launched aboard the satellite was the Ultraviolet Spectro-Coronagraph Pathfinder (UVSC Pathfinder), a joint experiment with the Naval Research Lab that studies the origins of solar energetic particles, the Sun's most dangerous form of radiation.

"We're thrilled to welcome UVSC Pathfinder to the heliophysics observatory fleet," said Daniel Moses, chief technologist in the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters. "This collaboration has the potential to develop a new, high-impact tool with predictive capability for energetic solar particle storms that will enable future space missions, helping us explore farther and travel safer."

NASA's LCRD will demonstrate the benefits of space-to-ground laser communications, also called optical communications. LCRD will send and receive data at a rate of 1.2 gigabits per second from geosynchronous orbit to Earth. At that speed, you could download a movie in under a minute. Laser communications systems are smaller, lighter, and use less power than radio frequency systems. These advantages, combined with laser communications' higher bandwidth, can advance robotic and human exploration across the solar system.

"LCRD is NASA's key milestone for the buildup of the 'Decade of Light' initiative, which involves the infusion of optical technology into space communications and navigation," said Badri Younes, deputy associate administrator for NASA's Space Communications and Navigation program at NASA Headquarters. "By the 2030s, we expect optical technology to play a critical role in enabling an interoperable, reliable, and robust space communications infrastructure, providing seamless operations and roaming capability between government and commercial users and providers."

After launch and confirmation that the payload is working well in space, LCRD will begin to transmit and receive data from its location in geosynchronous orbit – about 22,000 miles above Earth – with ground stations in California and Hawaii using infrared lasers.

LCRD will spend two years conducting experiments, assessing how weather and other changes in Earth's atmosphere can impact laser communications, and measuring link performance to refine its operational capabilities and processes. Some experiments will simulate relay scenarios between the Moon and Earth to inform how laser communications could one day be used in NASA's Artemis missions. The experiments and simulations will inform the development of future NASA and commercial missions hoping to utilize optical communications in Earth orbit and for exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Later in its mission, LCRD will serve as a relay between an optical communications terminal on the International Space Station and ground stations on Earth. NASA's Integrated LCRD Low-Earth Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal will allow for the first demonstration of a fully operational end-to-end laser communications system from the space station.

LCRD's mission, vision, design, and development will be covered in depth in the new season of NASA's The Invisible Network podcast. Over the course of five episodes beginning on Dec. 7 and each Wednesday thereafter, the podcast will highlight the future of the laser communications technologies this mission is proving in space and the people that are making it happen.

LCRD is led by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in partnership with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. LCRD is funded and managed through NASA's Technology Demonstration Missions program, part of the Space Technology Mission Directorate, and the Space Communications and Navigation program at NASA Headquarters.

UVSC Pathfinder was designed and built at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. It was funded through NASA's Heliophysics Program and the Office of Naval Research. It is managed by the Heliophysics Technology and Instrument Development for Science,program office at NASA Headquarters.

STP is operated by the United States Space Force's Space Systems Command. STPSat-6 was built by Northrop Grumman.

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