NASA uses laser to beam video from space

NASA has overhauled old communication technology on the International Space Station, employing a laser communications instrument to beam a high-definition video 260 miles to Earth. In a demonstration of 175-megabit communication for the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS), NASA sent a video message titled "Hello, World!". It is hoped the technology will help communication with future spacecraft.

Sam Scimemi, International Space Station division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said: "The International Space Station is a test bed for a host of technologies that are helping us increase our knowledge of how we operate in space and enable us to explore even farther into the solar system.

"Using the space station to investigate ways we can improve communication rates with spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit is another example of how the orbital complex serves as a stepping stone to human deep space exploration."

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.

The entire transmission lasted 148 seconds and reached a maximum data transmission rate of 50 megabits per second. 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.

"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 (JPL) 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."