You may one day be able to send a tweet from the Moon. Researchers have found a way to establish a Wi-Fi connection on the Moon by transmitting data through lasers.
The Optical Society is reporting that researchers from MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, with help from NASA, were able to transmit high-definition video streaming and large data transfers from a facility in White Sands, New Mexico.
Researchers had been struggling to find ways to establish a laser-communication uplink that could withstand both the distance and turbulence between the Earth and the Moon, but were recently able to successfully transmit data at a rate much higher than anything previously achieved.
“Communicating at high data rates from Earth to the Moon with laser beams is challenging because of the 400,000-kilometer distance spreading out the light beam,” Mark Stevens of the MIT laboratory says. “It’s doubly difficult going through the atmosphere, because turbulence can bend light—causing rapid fading or dropouts of the signal at the receiver.”
Last October they were able to transmit data from the Earth to the Moon, through their Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration, at a download rate of 19.44 megabits per second. Data sent in reverse, from the Moon to the Earth, was transmitted at a download rate of 622Mbps, which is faster than any radio frequency system on Earth.
By comparison the standard transmission rate in the U.S. for the average user is only 7.4 Mbps. In a large city, such as San Francisco, they can reach upwards of 75 Mbps.
To achieve this high transfer rate, researchers set up four separate lasers that could send an uplink signal to the Moon by sending information as pulses of invisible infrared light.
The megabits per second they calculated were around five times faster than the normal speed that NASA achieves through the use of radio waves.
NASA is using the research to create more efficient laser-based communication relays to replace those currently in use. The research has far-reaching impacts, and could potentially be used to increase data transmission speeds during missions to places as far away as Mars.
Spacecraft would be capable of transmitting data at far greater speeds through the use of lasers than radio waves, as well sending images at much higher resolutions from deep space than is currently possible.
The LLCD is a prototype for a more advanced project coming in 2017. MIT, along with NASA, plans to launch the Laser Communication Relay Demonstration to further study the implications of data transmission from the Earth to the Moon and hopes to establish a system to beam data more efficiently throughout the solar system.
By researching more effective ways to transmit data across long distances, scientists hope to one day use their findings to increase the capacity and speed at which we transmit data through simple technology like television and phones.
Even though we’re probably light years away from living on the Moon, the technology capable of being developed through researching it are clearly coming much sooner.
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