Despite being one of the most cutting-edge pieces of tech ever created by man, the International Space Station has an Internet communications problem. Well, it turns out super lasers could be the answer.
According to Space, a team of NASA scientists and engineers have demonstrated that laser communications, as opposed to traditional (slower) radio transmissions, could revolutionize how we communicate with space-based assets. Long-term, that could affect the way we communicate with a lot of things — because hopefully there’ll be a lot more stuff up there than just the ISS in the future.
The instrument is called the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS). It's rigged to the exterior of the space station and utilizes four ground-level lasers to blast data and “minimize the impact of atmospheric turbulence on data loss.” There are still some kinks, like the fact that it works less well during the day, but the tech shows a lot of promise.
The OPALS mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Matthew Abrahamson, had this to say about the potential long-term ramifications:
"OPALS has shown that space-to-ground laser communications transmissions are practical and repeatable. As a bonus, OPALS has collected an enormous amount of data to advance the science of sending lasers through the atmosphere. We look forward to continuing our testing of this technology, which sends information to and from space faster than with radio signals … OPALS is going to change the way we communicate with and build spacecraft in the future.”
Welcome to the future. Of course, it includes lasers. Hey, if we can beam wi-fi to the moon, why not high-speed connection on the ISS?