Cover your eyes: NASA, ESA set to bring broadband speeds to space using lasers

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) will soon bring a much-needed data link speed increase between satellites, spacecraft and Earth using laser beams, according to Nature. ESA will get the ball rolling on July 25th when it launches the Alphasat, which will communicate at 300 Mbps with the German Tandem-X satellite over an experimental optical communication terminal. NASA's LADEE Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (which launches September 5th) will take a different tack, however. That mission will communicate directly with the Earth all the way from the moon's orbit, thanks to an atmosphere-penetrating AM-style modulated infrared laser beam and eight ground telescopes. The use of lasers helps both missions avoid radio interference in space and on earth, while bringing six times greater speed from the moon than a radio-based system. Just to be on the safe side, though, NASA does have a backup radio link for LADEE -- as good as lasers are, they can't cut through a solid cloud layer.