Sunday, January 31, 2016
New Satellite Network to Use Laser Communication Technology
On Friday, the European Space Agency launched the first component of a network of satellites called the European Data Relay Satellite (EDRS). The 500 million euro project uses laser communication technology to improve the transfer of images between Earth and other satellites.
Currently images are sent using radio waves. Through this method, it can take hours for a satellite to send data back to Earth. The speed at which data can be transmitted is particularly critical when dealing with emergencies such as natural disasters or illegal activities out at sea. Lasers. on the other hand, can shorten the time it takes to convey information down to approximately 20 minutes. With this improvement, monitoring events like oil spills, floods, and glacial movement will be made much easier. The data transfer is estimated to be around 1.8Gbps. (The average Internet speed in the U.S. is about 12 Mbps.)
Laser communications technology will become more and more important as we attempt to venture farther from Earth. The difference between 20 minutes and a few hours is already significant, but keep in mind that Earth and the satellites it communicates with are between 700 km and 35,000 km apart. Compare this with the minimum possible distance between the Earth and Mars (54 million km) and you can already start to see why long distance communication by radio waves might pose an issue. With lasers, more information can be transferred and at a faster rate.
The EDRS is an intriguing project which offers many potential benefits regarding space travel and exploration. What are your thoughts on this project? Should the U.S. invest in this kind of technology? What other applications are associated with laser communication? To what degree will the EDRS improve activities here on Earth?