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NASA’s new laser-based modem could revolutionize data-crunching

by • February 1, 2016 • No Comments

For years now, fiber optics has been identified with super-speed communications and data transfer, but now NASA is working to create the following generation of high-speed modems via an emerging innovation called integrated photonics. The agency’s initially integrated photonics modem is set to be deployed aboard the International Space Station in 2020. The palm-sized device makes use of optics-based functions like lasers, switches and wires which are all integrated on a microchip much like those in our cell phones.

“Integrated photonics are like an integrated circuit, except they use light pretty than electrons to perform a wide variety of optical functions,” said Don Cornwell, director of NASA’s Advanced Communication and Navigation Division. “This innovation can enable all types of NASA missions, not only optical communications.”

Cornwell says which NASA has relied on radio frequency (RF)-based communications since its inception, but today’s missions demand higher data rates. Similar laser transmissions were tested of one of NASA’s lunar orbiters a few years ago. The agency hopes the new laser-based process can lead to data encoding and transmission rates 10 to 100 times faster than the current status quo, while in addition requiring less mass and power. If successful, the new infrastructure may donate us video and high-resolution data of spacecraft orbiting planets across the solar process.

NASA calls the process the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration, or LCRD. It comprises a hosted payload which may be in orbit and connected to two ground stations. The whole thing is expected to become operational and on the market for use after a two-year demonstration period.

One of the goals of the project is to hustle the innovation not only into space, but into use here on planet Earth as well.

“What we want to do is provide a faster exchange of data to the scientific community. Modems have to be inexpensive. They have to be tiny. We in addition have to store their mass down,” said Mike Krainak, who is major the modem’s createment at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

That may lead not only to additional robust inter-planetary communications, but other technological makes it to, like tinyer, additional efficient data centers.

“Google, Facebook, they’re all starting to appear at this innovation,” Krainak said. “As integrated photonics progresses to be additional cost effective than fiber optics, it can be utilized … Everything is headed this way.”

Source: NASA

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