On Jan. 22, 2020, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) flight payload was delivered to Northrop Grumman’s facility in Sterling, Virginia. There the payload will be integrated onto the U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program Satellite 6 (STPSat-6) and prepared for launch. LCRD will be NASA’s first end-to-end optical relay, sending and receiving data from missions in space to mission control on Earth. In the first image, you can see the LCRD space switching unit, which will enable digital communications from space to ground. This evolution to more internet-like communications will reduce the amount of processing required before data can be sent to science and mission operations centers.
LCRD will demonstrate the robust capabilities of optical communications. The two boxes pictured in the second image are optical modules, which are telescopes for receiving and transmitting optical, or laser, signals. Optical communications provides significant benefits for missions, including decreased size, weight and power requirements over comparable radio frequency communications systems, as well as bandwidth increases of 10 to 100 times more than radio frequency systems.
The LCRD mission is funded through NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, and managed by NASA’s Technology Demonstration Missions and the Space Communications and Navigation program offices.