Laser communications set for Moon mission

Jul 30, 2013
ESA's Optical Ground Station (OGS) is 2400 m above sea level on the volcanic island of Tenerife. Visible green laser beams are used for stabilising the sending and receiving telescopes on the two islands. The invisible infrared single photons used for quantum teleportation are sent from the neighbouring island La Palma and received by the 1 m Telescope located under the dome of the OGS. Initial experiments with entangled photons were performed in 2007, but teleportation of quantum states could only be achieved in 2012 by improving the performance of the set-up. Aside from inter-island experiments for quantum communication and teleportation, the OGS is also used for standard laser communication with satellites, for observations of space debris or for finding new asteroids. The picture is a multiple exposure also including Tenerife's Teide volcano and the Milky Way in the background. Credit: IQOQI Vienna, Austrian Academy of Sciences

An advanced laser system offering vastly faster data speeds is now ready for linking with spacecraft beyond our planet following a series of crucial ground tests. Later this year, ESA's observatory in Spain will use the laser to communicate with a NASA Moon orbiter.

The laboratory testing paves the way for a live space demonstration in October, once NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer – LADEE – begins orbiting the Moon.

LADEE carries a terminal that can transmit and receive pulses of light. ESA's Optical Ground Station on Tenerife will be upgraded with a complementary unit and, together with two US ground terminals, will relay data at unprecedented rates using infrared light beams at a wavelength similar to that used in fiber-optic cables on Earth.

"The testing went as planned, and while we identified a number of issues, we'll be ready for LADEE's mid-September launch," says Zoran Sodnik, manager for ESA's Lunar Optical Communication Link project.

"Our ground station will join two NASA stations communicating with the LADEE Moon mission, and we aim to demonstrate the readiness of optical communication for future missions to Mars or anywhere else in the Solar System."

Testing new European technology

The testing took place in July at a Zurich, Switzerland, facility owned by ESA's industrial partner RUAG and made use of a new detector and decoding system, a ranging system and a transmitter.

A NASA team, supported by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lincoln Laboratory and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, brought over their laser terminal simulator, while ESA together with RUAG and Axcon of Denmark set up the European equipment to test compatibility between the two sets of hardware.

"This interagency optical compatibility test was the first of its kind, and it established the uplink, downlink and the ranging measurement," says ESA's Klaus-Juergen Schulz, responsible for ground station systems at the European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt. 

The first laser link-up with LADEE is expected to be attempted four weeks after launch, around mid-October.

Laser pathways to future space communication

Laser communications at near-infrared wavelengths may be the way of the future when it comes to downloading massive amounts of data from spacecraft orbiting Earth, Mars or even more distant planets.

These units are lighter, smaller and need less power than today's radio systems, promising to cut mission costs and provide opportunities for new science payloads.

Explore further: Computer simulation suggests early Earth bombarded by asteroids and comets

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VendicarE
1 / 5 (2) Jul 30, 2013
Aliens would never invent such technology. Which is why we have detected tens of thousands of alien civilizations via SETI.

winthrom
not rated yet Jul 30, 2013
Aliens might have perfected quantum entanglement for communication and we can not detect that. Since we are nearing this goal also, our civilization may soon be silent also. In the mean time, the low power of these devices and the very directional beaming are silent enough. The thousands of civilizations we have detected (not!) are all as silent as the grave, so they are either pre/post radio wave communications.

The near IR must penetrate clouds, which means it might be useful as a passive vision device. Perhaps for private pilots near the limit of VFR (minimal VFR).
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jul 31, 2013
Aliens might have perfected quantum entanglement for communication

Entaglement does not allow for superluminal information transmission.

It's a bit subtle, but it has to do with how information is defined. Information is defined as the correlation between a-priori knowledge (knowing the information content of the message before you send) and a posteriori knowledge (deciphering the message at the receiving end). The higher the correlation the better. (Ideally the two are fully correlated).

However, entanglement does not allow for a priori knowledge. While you CAN know that you entangle you cannot know what state you entangle IN (since that would require a measurement and thereby immediately break the entanglement).
So with entanglement you effctively can never know what message you're sending - which means that while you have a correlated state you have no information transmission.