NASA has announced it will launch its latest mission to test the potential of a laser communications system, and encourage further research into technology used to mine asteroids.
On Tuesday, the space agency’s Mission Control Centre in Houston announced the upcoming next phase of the Wideband Global Satcom Pathfinder (WGS-P) space exploration, which plans to launch a spacecraft to test communications with laser communications that has already been developed by SpaceX.
The eventual goal of the project, according to a NASA statement, is to “test various techniques that can improve spacecraft navigation, navigation guidance, attitude correction, telemetry and signal transmission efficiency”.
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The next phase of the WGS-P project includes designing an experiment at the International Space Station. Once finished, the group will then be able to send data to Earth that has been converted into electrical signals using lasers. The data will be transmitted in one-tenth the time it currently takes to send data via radio waves.
In the near future, NASA scientists believe that this project will have enormous implications in allowing astronauts in space to navigate and communicate with each other. Until now, astronauts have been limited in their ability to communicate by using radio waves that travel at the speed of light.
Some of the benefits that would come from the new method include allowing scientists to “see through debris” and “sharpen their vision of the world”, according to Jon Jenkins, WGS-P project manager for the Marshall Space Flight Center.
In addition to using the space station as a test platform, the WGS-P project will test out the technology on a scale so large it could be fit into the Earth’s orbit. Ultimately, Jenkins says, the project will likely be used to facilitate astronautial navigation in the future.
“We are just at the beginning of how we will be traveling between lunar bases, and eventually going to Mars,” Jenkins says. “You want to be able to send the right direction for your forces to maneuver into and out of those positions.”