Every year, NASA sends additional information gathering missions into space. As the missions become increasingly more sophisticated, the amount of data they are able to gather and need to send to Earth is rapidly rising. To accommodate this need, NASA has transitioned to higher-bandwidth radio spectrum usage.
There is no way for NASA to use radio frequency communications to carry higher data rates without increasing the size of its antennas or power of its radio transmitters. The federal government's spectrum allocations are also being examined in order to determine what spectrum allocation can be relinquished to the private sector. Radio frequency communications can require large antennas aboard the spacecraft that can block the view of a spacecraft's science instruments and require challenging pointing issues.
Interest in Optical Communications
- Sending more information faster
- Less antennas needed to satisfy mission demand
- Lowers the weight of spacecraft
- More effectively utilizes available electromagnetic spectrum