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First Demonstration of Laser Communication With a Satellite at the Moon
Scientists with NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter beamed an image of the Mona Lisa to the spacecraft from Earth. The iconic image traveled nearly 240,000 miles in digital form from the Next Generation Satellite Laser Ranging station at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, to the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) instrument on the spacecraft. By transmitting the image piggyback on laser pulses that are routinely sent to track LOLA's position, the team achieved simultaneous laser communication and tracking. "This is the first time anyone has achieved one-way laser communication at planetary distances," says LOLA's principal investigator, David Smith of MIT. "In the near future, this type of simple laser communication might serve as a backup for the radio communication that satellites use. In the more distant future, it may allow communication at higher data rates than present radio links can provide."
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