Last month, NASA launched the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE). The mission included a prototype to test long range laser communications protocols between the moon and the Earth with results anticipated to be approximately 3000 times faster than traditional radio communication technologies.
The radio technology used today is not much more advanced than what was used during the Apollo missions of the 1960’s. The LADEE mission hopes to break this cycle by introducing new technology capable of revolutionizing communications both in space and here on the ground.
LADEE was scheduled to reach a lunar orbit on October 6th. Unfortunately, the government shutdown has made finding information about the mission nearly impossible. The LADEE mission homepage greets visitors with a canned message about the federal budget; yet another unfortunate side effect of the government’s inability to put citizens first.
The mission brings with it the promise of high-speed data transmission – as much as 200 Gbps. Better yet, the technology uses approximately 25% less power than current radio technology. Cloud cover can impede this type of data transfer, however, LADEE has redundant ground stations throughout the country meaning weather conditions are unlikely to affect the system.
For comparison’s sake, let’s take a look at current radio technology and some of its limitations as a communications tool.
Current Radio Communications Systems
Most modern communications systems rely on radio waves for transmission. Even in communities where fiber optic transmission lines are the norm, the end-user typically relies on radio waves in the form of Wi-Fi.
Although there have been significant advancements in Wi-Fi technology in recent years, there are quite a few limitations that are beginning to manifest themselves as our need for information continues to grow.
In general, radio technology is:
Slow – Compared to the laser technology promised by LADEE, radio waves cannot compete in terms of speed. As we continually rely on more data-intensive applications, speed is becoming even more important than it has been in the past.
Capacity – Many experts have stated that current radio technology is already at capacity. In other words, we are consistently exceeded the bandwidth allotted by these systems and growth from this point forward is marginal at best.
Security Concerns – Wi-Fi and other radio based signals are easily jammed or intercepted. Online fraud and identity theft are at an all-time high. Much of this crime can be attributed to compromised wireless networks. For example, the massive TJX credit card theft a few years ago was accomplished when hackers gained access to an unsecured Wi-Fi network at a retail location.
Damage – In 2008, most of the Middle East and India lost all Internet access after trans-Atlantic fiber lines were severed. The current infrastructure is susceptible to damage from natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and hardware failure.
Signal Degradation – Radio communications degrade quickly across relatively short distances. The technology being tested by NASA allows for communications across vast distances quickly and reliably.
Right now, approximately three billion people do not have access to Internet service. LADEE could bring global connectivity to these communities quickly and easily.
The Resilient Perspective
How will this technology change your life? Simply speaking, it’s the next wave of internet connections.
Laser cables are already being used by internet providers, but this will move the same light transmissions over the air. It creates an endless number of high-speed uses and applications.
Remember, leveraging proper technology is the key to becoming independent. Right now, there are approximately three billion people we cannot communicate with easily. Is it safe to say we could probably learn a thing or two about resiliency from these communities? A new gardening technique? Better food preservation methods?
The possibilities are endless.
Faster, more reliable connections with more people around the world means we can work together more easily. Even existing lines of communication are improved as information transmission methods improve. Collaboration becomes a convenient reality
The LADEE technology is capable of transmitting so much data simultaneously that it would be the equivalent of 100 HD television shows. Think of how much more data could be shared with like-minded individuals around the world?
Right now, O3B (the Other 3 billion), a global telecommunications company, is working to supply reliable communication to many communities without Internet access. Current initiatives rely on radio technology but the company is already looking at alternatives thanks to the research being done by NASA and the LADEE mission team.
Other companies are also looking at this mission as a glimpse into the future of radio telecommunications. Whether LADEE is a success or not, it’s clear that the demand for improved communications standards is increasing.
Although we cannot depend on technology like this forever, we are well-served to leverage it when possible to further our knowledge and simultaneously lessen our dependence on a failing system.