NASA and SpaceX are set to launch a Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station (ISS) on November 5. The uncrewed Dragon spacecraft aboard the rocket will then carry the components for the ILLUMA-T, a groundbreaking new laser communications system that will be installed on the ISS.
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ILLUMA-T, which stands for Integrated LCRD Low-Earth Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal, will allow the astronauts aboard the ISS to more reliably communication with Earth, hopefully boosting the possible science capabilities that the station offers. The system will also act as a first trial for a two-way laser communications relay, which NASA hopes to use on the Moon.
“Future missions have potentially exceptionally large data needs, and so we have to think about how we’re going to meet those needs,” NASA’s Jason Mitchell said during a press conference (via Space.com). Mitchell says more data will lead to more discoveries. The space agency strives to make this happen.
The laser communication system aboard the ISS has been under construction since 2021 when the agency’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration satellite launched. Now, the November 5 mission will take the final piece of the puzzle to the ISS. Once ILLUMA-T has been installed, the station should be able to send much more data faster.
As I noted above, this is all part of NASA’s ongoing plans to beef up the communications capabilities the agency offers for missions beyond our radio spectrum. As humanity’s space missions take us further and further from the Earth, finding better and faster communication methods will be extremely important. Lasers are a great way to provide reliable, faster communication across the space.
The laser communications system on the ISS will utilize infrared light to transmit both video and images faster. NASA hopes it will amp up the science returns for missions to Mars, the Moon, and beyond, making it easier to transfer data. For some context, a recent update to Voyager 2 took 18 hours to transmit across space. A laser-based system could speed up those types of communications exponentially.
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