ATA Supports Historic NASA Demonstration of Optical Communications from Lunar Orbit
NASA successfully completed the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) in early October 2013. LLCD flew aboard the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer satellite known as LADEE, which won the 2014 Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award (click here to read more about the award). As the first demonstration of long-range optical communications to support the NASA Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Network Architecture, LLCD demonstrated the transmission of information via a laser communication link from lunar orbit to the earth at data rates six times faster than state-of-the-art Ka band radio links. This critical demonstration validates NASA’s ability to send high-resolution imagery to the earth on future space exploration missions. “These first results have far exceeded our expectation,” said Don Cornwell, LLCD manager for NASA. “Just imagine the ability to transmit huge amounts of data that would take days in a matter of minutes. We believe laser-based communications is the next paradigm shift in future space communications.”
ATA built, tested, and delivered to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory (MIT LL) the enabling components for the laser communications stable platform subsystem, which is integral to the LLCD system. ATA’s proprietary Magneto-Hydrodynamic (MHD) angular rate sensor, ARS-15, and its high efficiency actuators enable submicroradian performance necessary to accomplish the NASA stringent laser pointing requirements of accuracy less than a half of an inch over the distance from the moon to the earth. Based on ATA’s decade-long history of innovations in optical beam stabilization, a government agency selected ATA to build, test, and deliver multiple space-qualified stable platforms for a national optical communications demonstration program.