NASA says lasers may bring broadband to space

Internet speeds in space, as you've probably guessed, are pretty slow. As in, worse than dial-up slow. Researchers have been devising potential ways to solve this problem, and now NASA has detailed one of them: space lasers. According to the agency, space may get its "broadband moment" in the near future (read: the next several years) via data beamed over laser light. This technology has the potential to speed up current rates so that they're up to 100 times faster.

While watching YouTube from space would no doubt be welcomed on particularly boring days, such rapid data transfers would have a different, more important purpose: the quick, relatively speaking, transfer of scientific data from researchers in space to researchers located on Earth. This data could include things like photos and videos captured by astronauts and spacecraft.

As space missions expand further into the solar system, laser-based data transmissions also offer another important benefit — the ability to zero in on locations with "pinpoint precision." One day each astronaut could have their own video feeds transmitted back to Earth, and the general public could be on the receiving end of higher-resolution videos and photos.

NASA currently users radio waves for such transmissions, and it says that while both radio and lasers travel at the speed of light, lasers are able to carry more data at once than its radio counterparts. To give an example of the potential speed boost brought on by lasers, NASA says the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter currently has a max transfer of 6Mbps, but could one day have max rate of 250Mbps.