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NASA’s next laser communications mission will launch early Sunday morning.

The Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) will land on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida during a scheduled two-hour window from 4:04 a.m. to 6:04 a.m. EST.


The LCRD, a hosted payload on the STPSAT-6 spacecraft led by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, is part of the US Space Force Space Systems Command’s Space Test Program 3 (STP-3) mission.

NASA says the mission will continue the agency’s exploration of laser communications to support future missions to the Moon and throughout the Solar System, and is a “giant step Towards making operational laser, or optical, communication a reality.”

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NASA uses radio frequency systems to communicate with astronauts and spacecraft Since the beginning of space exploration,

As space missions generate and collect more data, laser communications offer higher data rates than traditional radio frequency systems, leading to more data per transmission and increased bandwidth. 10 to 100 times over radio frequency systems.

“Using an infrared laser, the LCRD will send data from geosynchronous orbit at 1.2 gigabits-per-second (Gbps). At this speed and distance, you can download a movie in less than a minute,” NASA said. Explained in a November 15 post.

Additionally, optical communications using infrared lasers offer lower size, weight, and power requirements, meaning less expensive launches and not much drain on spacecraft batteries.

With the experimental mission lasting at least two years, once in an orbit about 22,000 miles above Earth’s surface, the LCRD “talks” with optical ground stations in California and Hawaii to test the invisible, near-infrared laser. will begin.

The sites were chosen for their clear weather conditions and remote, high altitude locations.

A team of engineers in Las Cruces, NM will begin the activation process by commissioning the payload.

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The payload has two optical modules, or telescopes, for receiving and transmitting laser signals.

Until the launch of the first LCRD user – Integrated LCRD Low-Earth Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal (iluma-t) payload, hosted on the International Space Station (ISS) – test data will be sent via radio frequency signals from the Mission Operations Center. Test data will include spacecraft health data, tracking, telemetry, and command data, and sample user data.

Data will beam to and from the satellite for engineers to study and enhance technology performance for an operational mission.

The LCRD will also test laser functionality with experiments from NASA, other government agencies, academia and commercial companies, including studies of atmospheric disturbances on the laser signal.

“Missions in space will send their data to the LCRD, which will then transmit the data to designated ground stations on Earth,” NASA said.

Later in the mission, the LCRD will receive high-resolution science data from the ILLUMA-T payload on the ISS that will be transmitted to a ground station.

Other missions in development will demonstrate and test additional laser communications capabilities, including: Terabyte Infrared Delivery (TBIRD) CubeSat Payload, the Orion Artemis II Optical Communications System (O2O) Terminal and Manas Mission Deep Space Optical Communication (DSOC) payload.

“All of these missions will help the aerospace community standardize laser communications for implementation on future missions. With laser light, NASA can obtain more information from space than ever before,” NASA said.

LCRD is funded TeaThrough NASA’s Technology Demonstration Mission program.

There is live coverage of the launch scheduled to air at 3:30 a.m. EST on NASA Television, the agency’s website and the NASA app.