Australian Laser Technology to Help Future NASA Missions to Mars

A new optical ground station has been built by the Australian National University to help the U.S. space agency, NASA, and others explore space and safely reach Mars.

The Australian team has developed a new type of space communication using lasers.

Researchers say the system will allow them to connect with satellites and NASA-crewed missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

The project is supported by the Australian Space Agency’s Moon to Mars initiative.

The Australian National University Quantum Optical Ground Station is based at the Mount Stromlo Observatory, near Canberra.

It is a powerful telescope that will support high-speed advanced communications with satellites orbiting at distances from low-Earth orbit to the moon.

Kate Ferguson, associate director for strategic projects at the Australian National University Institute for Space, told VOA current communication systems relying on radio frequencies can be slow and cumbersome.

“I am sure some of us remember the grainy pictures that we got of the moon landing that came from the Apollo era,” Ferguson said. “So, again the current radio frequency systems, they have these much slower data rates and especially over really long distances.  For space exploration those become very slow but with optical communications we will be able to increase the rate of that communication.”

She said the new system, based on powerful lasers that are invisible to the naked eye, will transform communications in space.

“What we are aiming to do is to be able to receive high-definition video from future crewed missions. Not only will that be great for us here on Earth, seeing what is happening with the astronauts on these types of missions, but it will improve the connectivity between those missions,” she said. “And what we are doing here is optical communication, which uses laser beams to communicate and these offer much higher speeds and increased security over the current systems and this is really important for us to be getting that data down and being able to use it here on Earth.”

Scientists say the Australian-developed systems will be compatible with NASA missions.

They say the laser-based technology will improve astronauts’ ability to connect with Earth from the moon and also allow high-definition video to be sent from the moon and Mars.

NASA has said previously that astronauts could be sent on a mission to the red planet by the mid-to-late 2030s.

 

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