Laser Communications


Two-way laser communication in space has long been a goal for NASA because it would enable data transmission rates that are 10 to 1,000 times higher than traditional radio waves. While lasers and radio transmissions both travel at light-speed, lasers can pack more data. It's similar to moving from a dial-up Internet connection to broadband.

If the technical hurdles can be overcome, lasers would benefit not only communications, but basic science as well. Astronomers could use lasers like very accurate rulers to measure the movement of planets with unprecedented precision.

With microwaves, we're limited to numbers like a meter or two in distance, whereas [lasers have] a potential for getting down into well beyond the centimeter range.

Lasers could also be used refine basic principles of fundamental physics.

If you could make planetary scale measurements at the centimeter or millimeter level--which we can't at the moment--then we could understand some principles of relativistic physics which can only be tested at very extreme accuracies at very large distances.