Optical communications systems seek to address the limitations of radio frequency communications.
Did You Know?
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) uses a 3 meter antenna to communicate with Earth. If MRO was using optical communications, it could use a 20 centimeter aperture telescope instead.
Optical Communications Potential
Depending on the mission application, an optical communications solution could achieve:
Mars image taken by MRO
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Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) Example
The image taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) represents what one could see from a helicopter ride at 1000 feet above the planet. While this mission is collecting some of the highest resolution images of Mars to date (it will collect 10 to 20 times more data than previous Mars missions), bandwidth is still a problem.
At MRO’s maximum data rate of 6 mega bits per second (Mbps) (the highest of any Mars mission), it takes nearly 7.5 hours to empty its on-board recorder and 1.5 hours to transfer a single image back to Earth that the onboard High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera has taken.
In contrast, with an optical communications solution at 100 Mbps, the recorder could be emptied in 26 minutes, and an image could be transferred to the Earth in less than 5 minutes.