NASA To Test Laser Communication System On Space Station

PASADENA, Calif. (CBS Tampa) – A key piece of space hardware is about to get an upgrade into the 21st century.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station had been relying on radio signals to communicate with mission control on Earth.

While the technology of radio is tried and true, it imposes limits on how much data can be sent to scientists on the ground about the various experiments going on at any time.

NASA will begin testing a new optical system that will harness laser beams to send signals to and from the station.

Called the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS), the new system will dramatically increase the amount of information that can be streamed from space.

“Our ability to generate data has greatly outpaced our ability to downlink it,” said OPALS project systems engineer Bogdan Oaida.

He added that this upgrade will be “like upgrading from dial-up to DSL,”

The module will be launched Sunday and engineers will spend the next three months testing it.

The technology was conceived, constructed, and tested at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

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