Team to report on broadband wireless connection to moon

May 30, 2014 by Nancy Owano weblog
Mosaic of the near side of the moon as taken by the Clementine star trackers. The images were taken on March 15, 1994. Credit: NASA

When can people expect to live and work in space? That is quite a question, but scientists are not afraid of asking yet another: assuming people are living and working in space, how are they to communicate with space stations and individuals on Earth? Can they reasonably expect reliable wireless Internet access on the moon? The answer from a team of scientists at NASA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is that it may well be possible, namely, that wireless broadband can reach the moon. The researchers are from MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, working with NASA, forming a "lunar laser communication" team. They are to present a report of a laser-based communication uplink between the moon and Earth, which beat a previous record transmission speed last fall by a factor of 4,800. A detailed overview of their work was prepared by The Optical Society (OSA); the team will be taking their findings next month to the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO) in California, on June 9.

The scientists have demonstrated a data technology approach that can provide space dwellers with connectivity, enabling large data transfers and even high-definition video streaming. What is this approach to bringing connectivity to the moon all about? The team used four separate telescopes at a ground terminal at White Sands, New Mexico. The telescopes, each about 6 inches in diameter, send the uplink signal to the moon. Each telescope is fed by a laser transmitter sending information coded as pulses of invisible infrared light.

The researchers use four telescopes, as each transmits light through a different column of air which experiences different bending effects from the atmosphere, raising the chance of at least one of the beams to interact with the receiver, mounted on a satellite orbiting the moon. The receiver's telescope collects the light, focused into an . "From there," said OSA, "the signal in the fiber is amplified about 30,000 times. A photodetector converts the pulses of light into electrical pulses that are in turn converted into data bit patterns that carry the transmitted message. Of the 40-watt signals sent by the transmitter, less than a billionth of a watt is received at the satellite—but that's still about 10 times the signal necessary to achieve error-free communication."

Mark Stevens of MIT Lincoln Laboratory said communicating at high data rates from Earth to the with laser beams poses a challenge because of the 400,000-kilometer distance spreading out the light beam. He said that it is "doubly difficult going through the atmosphere, because turbulence can bend light-causing rapid fading or dropouts of the signal at the receiver."

The receiver's telescope collects the light, focused into an optical fiber. "From there," said OSA, "the signal in the fiber is amplified about 30,000 times. A photodetector converts the pulses of into that are in turn converted into data bit patterns that carry the transmitted message. Of the 40-watt signals sent by the transmitter, less than a billionth of a watt is received at the satellite—but that's still about 10 times the signal necessary to achieve error-free communication."

Explore further: NASA beams Mona Lisa to Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter at the moon (w/ video)

Related Stories

Laser communications set for Moon mission

July 30, 2013

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 ...

Moon mission beams laser data to ESA station

November 3, 2013

(Phys.org) —ESA's ground station on the island of Tenerife has received laser signals over a distance of 400 000 km from NASA's latest Moon orbiter. The data were delivered many times faster than possible with traditional ...

Laser-powered farewell to Moon mission

April 28, 2014

(Phys.org) —Just before NASA's latest Moon mission ended last week, an ESA telescope received laser signals from the spacecraft, achieving data speeds like those used by many to watch movies at home via fibre-optic Internet.

First broadband wireless connection... to the Moon?!

May 22, 2014

If future generations were to live and work on the moon or on a distant asteroid, they would probably want a broadband connection to communicate with home bases back on Earth. They may even want to watch their favorite Earth-based ...

Recommended for you

Smart home heating and cooling

August 28, 2015

Smart temperature-control devices—such as thermostats that learn and adjust to pre-programmed temperatures—are poised to increase comfort and save energy in homes.

Smallest 3-D camera offers brain surgery innovation

August 28, 2015

To operate on the brain, doctors need to see fine details on a small scale. A tiny camera that could produce 3-D images from inside the brain would help surgeons see more intricacies of the tissue they are handling and lead ...

Team creates functional ultrathin solar cells

August 27, 2015

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers with Johannes Kepler University Linz in Austria has developed an ultrathin solar cell for use in lightweight and flexible applications. In their paper published in the journal Nature Materials, ...

Interactive tool lifts veil on the cost of nuclear energy

August 24, 2015

Despite the ever-changing landscape of energy economics, subject to the influence of new technologies and geopolitics, a new tool promises to root discussions about the cost of nuclear energy in hard evidence rather than ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

PPihkala
not rated yet May 31, 2014
There is repeating text at the end of article.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.