NASA has successfully beamed a high—definition video with the message “Hello, World! from the International Space Station to Earth using a new laser communications instrument.
The US space agency’s Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) instrument transmitted a new 37—second, 175—megabit video called “Hello, World!” to a ground station in California on June 5.
It took OPALS 3.5 seconds to transmit each copy of the “Hello World!” video message, which would have taken more than 10 minutes using traditional downlink methods, NASA said.
“It’s incredible to see this magnificent beam of light arriving from our tiny payload on the space station,” said Matt Abrahamson, OPALS mission manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
“We look forward to experimenting with OPALS over the coming months in hopes that our findings will lead to optical communications capabilities for future deep space exploration missions,” Abrahamson said.
Optical communication tools like OPALS use focused laser energy to reach data rates between 10 and 1,000 times higher than current space communications, which rely on radio portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Because the space station orbits Earth at 28,163 kph, transmitting data from the space station to Earth requires extremely precise targeting.
The process can be equated to a person aiming a laser pointer at the end of a human hair 30 feet away and keeping it there while walking.
To achieve this extreme precision during the demonstration, OPALS locked onto a laser beacon emitted by the Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory ground station at the Table Mountain Observatory in Wrightwood, California, and began to modulate the beam from its 2.5—watt, 1,550—nanometre laser to transmit the video.
The entire transmission lasted 148 seconds and reached a maximum data transmission rate of 50 megabits per second.
OPALS arrived at the space station on April 20 aboard SpaceX’s robotic Dragon capsule during the company’s third contracted cargo run to the orbiting lab for NASA.
The instrument is scheduled to operate for a prime mission lifetime of 90 days.