If you could only choose two things to love, it would probably be space and lasers, right? It’s your lucky then, because NASA has announced that it will begin testing new communication and data transmission technologies using lasers starting in October. The system will be called OPALS, or Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science, and it “has the potential to change the way data is transmitted from space to Earth.”
Using laser beams, NASA will be able to receive and transmit information to the ISS at a much faster rate than current communication technologies. Laser beams are also “hundreds-to-thousands of times narrower than traditional radio-frequency beams,” which allow for higher data rates. Currently, NASA communicates through the same technology that brings you music to your car’s radio.
NASA will use OPALS to “demonstrate and test optical communications technologies from a space-based platform by transferring video data via the laser hardware on the space station to a ground receiver” located at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory in California.
As the space station flies over, a laser beacon will transmit the laser signal to the ISS. However, while it doesn’t sound all that complicated, NASA says precision is absolute key. They say “it’s like trying to use a laser to point to an area that’s the diameter of a human hair from 20-to-30 feet away while moving at half-a-foot per second.”