NASA's Using Space Laser to Download Video From Orbit at Gigabit Speeds

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NASA's latest data download just covered way more distance, and contained way more awesome, than any earthbound file transfer: the agency beamed a high-def video down from the International Space Station this week using a high-powered laser. Go ahead and give your WiFi router a good stern look.

The Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science project, or OPALS, mounted a 2.5 watt, 1,550-nanometer laser transmitter to the ISS. The device was tasked with transmitting data at 50 megabits per second to a NASA receiving station near Los Angeles. With the ISS hurtling around our planet at over 17,000 MPH, a steady aim is hugely important: NASA likens the task to "aiming a laser pointer at the end of a human hair 30 feet away and keeping it there while walking."


But the transmission was a success: the laser rig beamed down the "Hello, World" video shown below in a mere 3.5 seconds, a feat that would have taken more than 10 minutes using traditional radio frequencies currently used for data transmission to outer space.

NASA says the boost in data transmission capabilities is like going from dial-up to DSL. That upgrade was great when you got it at your house—no more overnight downloads to get that Streetlight Manifesto album!—but it's hugely important for NASA, whose space missions are generating ever-growing amounts of data. And fast, reliable data downloads are crucial in NASA's plans to send a mission to Mars.


All those movie and comic book supervillains had it right all along: space lasers are seriously amazing. [NASA]