The Moon may now have a better wireless signal than your local coffee shop. In a test last fall, NASA and MIT researchers showed off a fancy new rig that uses pulses of laser light to shoot data across the vast distances between Earth and our satellite some 238,900 miles away. The results of this first test are set to be presented by the researchers at a conference on June 9th, says Wired UK.
NASA's laser-based long-distance internet has been under development for the past 3 years, and last fall it was put to the ultimate long-distance upload test, says the Optical Society:
The team made history last year when their Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) transmitted data over the 384,633 kilometers between the moon and Earth at a download rate of 622 megabits per second, faster than any radio frequency (RF) system. They also transmitted data from the Earth to the moon at 19.44 megabits per second, a factor of 4,800 times faster than the best RF uplink ever used.
A 19.44 megabits per second upload speed is not only much faster than the radio frequency data transmission typically used in space exploration, it's actually nearing the upper end of what you can get at home, according to Yahoo. A 10 to 15 megabit per second transfer speed gives you more than enough juice to stream high definition TV or have video chats. Downloading from the Moon to the Earth was even faster, with transfer speeds pushing 622 megabits per second.
The setup required to get NASA's space laser internet to work is a bit different than just running some ethernet cables, though, says Wired UK. The system uses four satellites in New Mexico to shoot pulses of infrared laser light across 238,900 miles.
Though the high-speed transfer rates could theoretically be used to stream movies to bored Moon-bound astronauts, the system could actually have some really important uses. Higher data transfer speeds means that larger and better images and satellite observations can be streamed back to Earth in near real time, which could potentially revolutionize everything from forest fire monitoring to weather prediction to solar flare tracking.