In April, NASA sent special equipment to the ISS that’ll be able to test if laser beams can effectively transmit large amounts of data from space. Sounds like the project is going well thus far, because it successfully beamed a 27-second “Hello, World!” video back to Earth for the first time. The entire transmission lasted 148 seconds, but it took the system only 3.5 seconds to send each copy of the video clip to the project’s ground station at the Table Mountain Observatory in California. It would’ve taken the ISS’ radio waves-based technologies 10 minutes to do what OPALS did for less than two; the connection even reached a peak of 50 megabits per second.
NASA is already beaming high-speed downloads to and from the moon, and it has now created a much faster link to the International Space Station (ISS). The agency this week used a high-powered laser to send a video (“Hello, World,” if you must know), in just 3.5 seconds. Over traditional radio frequencies, that would have taken over ten minutes, so obviously the boost in speed is a significant one. Through the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science project (OPALS), a 2.5 watt, 1,550-nanometer laser transmitter was mounted to the ISS, and used to beam the video down at 50Mbps. And this is all done while the ISS, which orbits our planet at a relaxing 17,500 MPH, is hurtling through space—not like it’s just floating above Earth in one spot. NASA said this feat is like trying to keep a laser pointer aimed at the end of a human hair from 30 feet away while walking. So nearly impossible, got it. The more data NASA collects, the more information we need beamed down here to Earth. It’s a wonder we can even communicate with machine in space in the first place, let alone so quickly. NASA said OPALS’ success is not just a step forward for communicating with the ISS, but with satellites and other spacecraft well beyond low-Earth orbit.