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NASA expected to launch Laser Communications Relay Demonstration

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NASA expected to launch Laser Communications Relay Demonstration

Goddard Space Flight Center/NASA

NASA will launch a Laser Communications Relay Demonstration today, establishing the agency’s first end-to-end laser relay system.

Space is rapidly becoming the ultimate high ground in great-power competition between ChinaRussia and the US. Laser communications (LC) are a key military and civilian technology that allows the rapid transmission and reception of information from two geographically distant points. These systems can increase data transmission speeds from a few kilobytes per second to gigabytes per second, and are highly secure information delivery systems. Satellites, like the one launched today, function as the key relay station between the two locations—either ground-based or space-based.

NASA’s launch today is civilian in nature, aimed at proving the feasibility of a laser-based system connecting California to Hawaii. NASA plans on using the technology to develop the equivalent of a fiber-optic information superhighway in the sky, which could revolutionize information sharing for the US and its allies. If successful, this test will set the framework for an improved US Department of Defense communications system based on the technology to combat China’s own LC systems. Short-term, watch for companies such as SpaceX that may seek to use LC systems to increase data-transmission speeds for commercial purposes.

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