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Researchers Unveil High-Speed Laser Communications Device For Space 40

Posted by samzenpus
from the saving-your-laser-minutes dept.
coondoggie writes "Using lasers to communicate quickly through the long distances of space has generally been the purview of science fiction. But researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) are out to change that notion with a prototype array (pdf) that can read more information — and allow much higher data rates than conventional systems — than usual from single particles of light. Lasers can transmit only very low light levels across vast distances, so signals need to contain as much information as possible, NASA said."
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Researchers Unveil High-Speed Laser Communications Device For Space

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  • Not *that* new (Score:5, Informative)

    by cheesybagel (670288) on Thursday February 13, 2014 @01:43AM (#46235789)

    Using lasers to communicate quickly through the long distances of space has generally been the purview of science fiction.

    The ESA Artemis satellite [wikipedia.org] used the SILEX laser link to communicate with the SPOT-4 satellite. It was not the first project to use laser communications in space either. The datarates mentioned in this article are better than those of SILEX though.

    • by Calydor (739835)

      Hence the use of the word 'generally' rather than 'exclusively'.

    • by bigpat (158134)

      And LADEE [nasa.gov] recently demonstrated a laser communications system with data rates about ten times over what Artemis demonstrated.

      I think these articles and summaries that appear on Slashdot would better serve the community if they took a moment to figure out what the new part of "the news" really is. This sounds like an improvement which will enable more efficient laser communication over longer distances than was demonstrated with LADEE. So, an improvement more applicable to deep space probes or maybe all

  • photons are photons (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Does it matter whether the emitted photons are from RF or Light? They both travel at the same speed.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yes. The energy that gets you one single green photon gets you 75000 radio photons at the Cassini probe's X-band comm frequencies, for example. Having 75000 times more quanta means your system can be built on well-known classical principles (i.e. standard microwave radios) and work as expected.

      • Even out of a high-gain antenna radio waves spread enough to lower EIRP a lot compared to a laser.

    • by symbolset (646467) *

      It's hard to collimate signals in the microwave band. There is no way to do that and if there were there are still order of magnitude frequency issues. For about a hundred bucks I could buy a laser and create a way to bounce a data signal off of Mars with it using a mirror and a speaker. From here, using retail parts. The coherent part of lasers is freaking awesome.

      Did you know lasers can be used as propulsion too? We aren't making enough use of that.

  • I've invested way too much time to movies and books to not see laser communications, to at the very least, to the moon in my lifetime. There are many authors that have enjoyed my 25 cents or less of royalties they received that should finally be vindicated by including laser based communications in their books!
    • by Seranfall (680430)

      I've invested way too much time to movies and books to not see laser communications, to at the very least, to the moon in my lifetime. There are many authors that have enjoyed my 25 cents or less of royalties they received that should finally be vindicated by including laser based communications in their books!

      to...to... to.. damnit..

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Does it have a Shark2Shark protocol (S2S) implemented?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I've found that most WiFi connections bragging about being highspeed, are not that far from being modem speeds. If it's high-speed, the marketers feel the terminology forces the users into giving them more cash. Evey time I here the phrase, I figuartively want to randomly strangle someone, anyone working in sales.

    Lasers at modem speeds; there's a thought, or not.

    • under two assumptions
      1) you are talking about telephone modems
      2) you are talking about WiFi connections, backed by a internet service that is not through a telephone modem

      you must either have only used some astoundingly awesome modems, or some astoundingly crappy WiFi routers

      the only case where they have remotely similar speeds is if you are comparing the text-only response via modem to a full web page with a bunch of images along with similar text.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...unless their laser can send signals traveling faster than the speed of light.

  • I wonder if this will have any application to the delay-tolerant networking [wikipedia.org] concepts for interplanetary networking done by Vint Cerf.
  • by Githaron (2462596) on Thursday February 13, 2014 @11:31AM (#46238207)
    According to the article, they use positioning information to generate additional bits of information. My question is how do they determine position at large distances when both bodies are obviously not standing still. The only thing I can think of is having one constant laser being used as a position reference for all communication lasers. Of course, they still have to be able to hold the laser on the detector array.
    • by mattr (78516)

      Key points
      - They use superconducting nanowires to make a grid. I doubt anybody not in space is doing that
      - Though I didn't catch it from the pdf, the article has a quote from NIST saying that x,y information inside this grid
      - This allows an n x n pixel grid sensor to be built out of only 2n nanowires. A photon heats up a nanowire intersection to register a hit, then wait for it to cool down. p.s. cooling something down isn't that easy in space.
      - Presumably you would have to beam a repeating pattern (or holo

      • by mattr (78516)

        ... that x,y info in the grid is used to encode additional information, which allows you more info not *despite* but *because* only one photon hits the detector at a time. In other words this detector only works when only one photon can reach the detector at the same time, and the beam output will have to be weakened if the spacecraft is too close perhaps. So if the photon rate is 1 photon per millisecond the bit rate can be multiples of 1000 bps due to also having an extra couple of bits per photon saying

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