First-ever laser communications terminal to be tested on the Moon
ATLAS Space Operations Inc., a company specializing in cloud-based satellite management and control services, has announced that it will test the first-ever laser communications terminal on the lunar surface. The company has recently signed a contract with Astrobotic Technology Inc., which could see their system fly to the Moon in late 2019.
The terminal, under development by ATLAS, is expected to establish the world’s first laser communication link from the lunar surface. This could mark a significant breakthrough in terms of laser communications for planetary missions.
“Our main goal is to demonstrate the viability of a commercial laser communications capability from the lunar surface. This is a stepping-stone to establishing a permanent infrastructure in support of future lunar activity,” Dan Carey, Director of Marketing at ATLAS Space Operations, told SpaceFlight Insider.
The terminal, which will be sent to the Moon on board Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lander, will carry out first the crucial tests for the development of this potentially ground-breaking technology. This hardware is intended to be a baseline for ATLAS’ future interplanetary communications technology. Carey noted that the tests on lunar surface will allow us to “learn the hard lessons closer to home, on the Moon, before venturing beyond.”
By sending its payload to the Moon ATLAS also aims to provide a platform for the public to access a virtual lunar experience. With this technology and lunar capability, the company would be able to provide the rest of humanity an experience that previously has been reserved for an elite class of explorers.
“Organizations like NASA and MIT/Lincoln Labs are the ones who have developed the revolutionary technology. ATLAS is taking that technology and commercializing it for the advancement of human interest in space. Our company was founded on the ideal of making space accessible to all,” Carey said.
The laser communications terminal is expected to weigh less than 22 pounds (10 kilograms) and will consume less than 60 W for up to 1.0 Gbps of data transfer to Earth. The ground segment of this system will be comprised of Earth Observation Stations, part of the International Laser Ranging Service adapted for this mission, and other commercially-available ground terminal technology previously used for laser communications.
For ATLAS’ management, the partnership with Astrobotic is considered to be key to showcase its capabilities. Moreover, both companies share the same vision of space exploration and look forward to a long-lasting collaboration.
“Astrobotic is progressive and forward thinking. Our companies share a common goal in advancing human interest in lunar and interplanetary exploration. We aim to make the ‘heavens’ more available and affordable than ever before to all who have similar interests,” Carey concluded.
Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.