- R&D 100 Awards
2014 R&D 100 Winner Despite major advances in radio frequency (RF) systems, users will soon require higher data rates than radio can achieve. The use of optical frequencies, on the other hand, has the potential to achieve perhaps 100 or even 1,000 times the data rates of the best RF systems because of its huge unregulated spectrum and shorter wavelengths. Several so-called near-Earth lasercom systems have been demonstrated, but they have not yet scaled to widespread use. MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s Lunar Laser Communication System (LLCS) combines several technologies to permit high-data-rate lasercom between distant platforms, in this case an Earth-based terminal and a smaller lunar-orbit-based terminal. The space terminal combines three modules—optical, modem and electronic controllers—and contains innovations like inertial stabilization and a mere 1/2-W laser. The ground terminal’s downlink receiver is based on revolutionary superconducting nanowire single-photon detector technology that boasts 75% efficiency and very high speed. With diffractive signal losses at least a million times less than RF, and utilizing 5 GHz of spectrum, LLCS can transmit at high rates. On Oct. 17, 2013, the LLCS used a pulsed laser beam to transmit data over the 239,000 miles from the Moon to Earth at a record-breaking download speed of 622 Mbps.
Technology Lunar laser communication system
|The Lunar Laser Communication System's team.|
The Lunar Laser Communication System (LLCS) Development Team Don Boroson, Principal Developer, MIT Lincoln LaboratoryDon Cornwell, Principal Developer, NASA Goddard Space Flight CenterBryan RobinsonDennis BurianekDaniel MurphyFarzana KhatriJohn Rush, NASA's Space Communications and Navigation Program OfficePaul Sasson