NASA bets on laser to improve dialogue between space and Earth

SPACE USA

Miami, Dec 3 (EFE) .- The US space agency NASA is going to launch a new laser-based technology into orbit this weekend, which seeks to revolutionize communications and the transmission of data between space and Earth in order to a future manned return to the Moon in 2025, which will pave the way for Mars.

Puerto Rican Javier Ocasio, who led the construction of the so-called Laser Communications Retransmitter Demonstration System (LCRD, in English), whose launch on a rocket is scheduled for this Sunday, told Efe that it is a satellite that will be “crucial ”To streamline communications, which currently use radio frequency.

“We want to have a communication system with which we can send more data, be able to communicate more frequently and send more information when we send people back to the Moon and if we have Mars in mind,” said the Integration and Testing manager of the LCRD mission.

He explained, for example, that sending a complete map of the planet Mars to Earth with radio frequency technology, which is effective but limited, would take about nine weeks, while with laser it would take about nine days.

The scientist explained that this Friday the satellite will be transferred to the launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, in central Florida, from where it plans to launch on Sunday morning, with a two-hour window that starts 04.04 local time (09.04 GMT).

The satellite is part of the cargo carried by a ship propelled by an Atlas 5 rocket from the United Launch Alliance (ULA) company that will take off from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

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Ocasio explained that once it takes off from Earth, it will take about eight hours for the satellite to reach the geosynchronous orbit in which it will remain, about 35,400 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.

He specified that it is an orbit that was chosen to facilitate communication with the first two ground stations, which were already built, in California and Hawaii, to which two other space stations will be added, one on the International Space Station (ISS, in English) in 2022, and another later as part of the Artemis lunar program.

“The idea is that in the future there will be more to have a communications network in deep space,” said the Puerto Rican.

He added that this network foresees a great challenge in the future for the coordination of the retransmission of information between the different ground and space stations with the LCRD satellite, which will eventually have to be regulated by governments.

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Laser communications will allow 10 to 100 times more transmissions to Earth compared to radio systems, which means they can send photos, videos and data of planetary surfaces and the state of satellites more detailed, with higher resolution. .

Ocasio compares the advancement that the internet had on Earth when fiber optics began to be used, which sped it up.

In space, he said, it is the same, with the difference that there is no cable, but light waves.

“Radio frequency waves can carry a certain amount of information, the concentrated light beam can carry more information per unit of time, therefore it gives you the impression that you are going to send the information faster, but in reality what you are doing is sending more information per second “, he clarified

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With NASA’s aspirations to return to the Moon by 2025 through the Artemis program and stay there longer, the scientist said that the agency foresees a greater volume of information and therefore a greater demand to improve and streamline communications. .

Once in orbit, the LCRD, which was designed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), will be “on” for the holidays, Ocasio said to give priority to other satellites.

From that moment on, the tests will begin, which will be expanded when the station is installed on the ISS next year.

Ocasio also explained that these LCRD infrared systems weigh less, are smaller and use less energy than radio waves, allowing, among others, a greater space for research instruments and less weight for the launch of the rockets. .

Ocasio said that one of the challenges she had to overcome in the construction of the LCRD was the weather conditions in the Earth’s atmosphere, “if they are not adequate, the signal can be damaged a little” because they do not go inside a cable that connects it. protects.

“It is a ray of light that has to pass through the clouds of the atmosphere, however once communication is in space we no longer have that problem,” he said.

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