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NASA will install groundbreaking laser communication system on ISS next month

Published Oct 27th, 2023 8:12PM EDT
ISS orbiting Earth
Image: 3dsculptor / Adobe

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NASA and SpaceX are set to launch a Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station (ISS) on November 5. The uncrewed Dragon spacecraft aboard the rocket will then carry the components for the ILLUMA-T, a groundbreaking new laser communications system that will be installed on the ISS.

ILLUMA-T, which stands for Integrated LCRD Low-Earth Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal, will allow the astronauts aboard the ISS to more reliably communication with Earth, hopefully boosting the possible science capabilities that the station offers. The system will also act as a first trial for a two-way laser communications relay, which NASA hopes to use on the Moon.

“Future missions have potentially exceptionally large data needs, and so we have to think about how we’re going to meet those needs,” NASA’s Jason Mitchell said during a press conference (via Mitchell also says that more data means more discoveries, something that the space agency is always trying to improve upon.

illuma-T to lcrd, iss laser communication systemImage source: NASA/Dave Ryan

The laser communication system aboard the ISS has been under construction since 2021 when the agency’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration satellite launched. Now, the November 5 mission will take the final piece of the puzzle to the ISS. And once ILLUMA-T is installed, it should allow the station to transmit much more data at faster speeds.

As I noted above, this is all part of NASA’s ongoing plans to beef up the communications capabilities the agency offers for missions beyond our radio spectrum. As humanity’s space missions take us further and further from the Earth, finding better and faster communication methods will be extremely important. Using lasers will no doubt help provide a reliable and faster way to communicate across space.

The laser communications system on the ISS will utilize infrared light to transmit both video and images faster. NASA hopes it will amp up the science returns for missions to Mars, the Moon, and beyond, making it easier to transfer data. For some context, a recent update to Voyager 2 took 18 hours to transmit across space. A laser-based system could speed up those types of communications exponentially.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.