MIT and NASA have successfully used lasers to send a broadband wireless signal to the moon—with a connection fast enough to stream high-definition video. Admittedly, there’s a sparse lunar audience for Netflix—but this is big news for those interested in pushing the limits of data communication technology to enable deep-space exploration.

Here’s how Mark Stevens of MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory explains the obstacles his team faced: “Communicating at high data rates from Earth to the moon with laser beams is challenging because of the 400,000-kilometer distance spreading out the light beam. It’s doubly difficult going through the atmosphere, because turbulence can bend light, causing rapid fading or dropouts of the signal at the receiver.”

To overcome the difficulties, the ground terminal in New Mexico utilized four separate telescopes to maximize the chance of at least one connecting with the receiver, which orbits the moon on a satellite. Even though less than a billionth of a watt from the 40-watt signal reaches the receiver, this is 10 times what is needed for reliable communications.

This Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD), achieved last fall, breaks previous records for transmission speeds reached by radio frequency signals by a factor of 4,800. On Monday, June 9, the team from NASA and Lincoln Laboratory shared for the first time a complete overview of implementation and results at the CLEO laser technology conference.

From MIT News, read a Q&A with MIT project lead Don Boroson on the significance of LLCD and how Lincoln Laboratory helped make it happen.

Learn more about the technology behind LLCD from the Optical Society.

And see what the media has to say:

Wired UK: “Wireless broadband can reach the moon, and maybe Mars”
Discover Magazine: “The Moon is Now a Wi-Fi Hotspot”

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