How laser communication could boost research on the International Space Station and beyond

Gigaom

At any moment, dozens of experiments are underway on the International Space Station, from testing how ants problem-solve in microgravity to developing robots that can assist astronauts. All of those experiments, on top of the space station crew’s daily communications with Earth, add up to a lot of data.

The ISS’s current reliance on radio communication means that its crew has to pick what data is worth sending back to Earth. But NASA’s Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science team wants to make it possible to send 10 to 100 times more information at a time by converting data into a laser beam that will travel from the ISS to Earth. If the team is successful, their work could open up the possibility of more data-intensive experiments and even streaming video from distant locations like Mars.

OPALS’ 600 pound instrument was scheduled to take off on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket today, but the launch has…

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