NASA’s moon laser just blew your home Internet out of the water

October 23, 2013

NASA's LADEE undergoes a spin test. (NASA)

In the nation's capital, the fastest residential Internet connection money can buy tops out at 75 Mbps. That's pretty zippy. But it doesn't compare to the 622 Mbps monster pipe that NASA just successfully tested over a distance of 239,000 miles.

Unfortunately, to take advantage of those speeds, you'd have to be downloading data from the moon. That's because NASA's system consists of a laser that's pointed at Earth's natural satellite — or more specifically, at a spacecraft orbiting the moon called LADEE.

Why a laser? NASA says the radio spectrum it's traditionally relied on to transmit signals is getting increasingly overloaded with traffic. Capturing radio signals from space also requires gigantic sensors. Sending information as a laser is much more efficient, and will allow new capabilities like 3D video and other high-bandwidth applications. In addition to downloading data at tremendous rates, NASA also successfully tested uploading information via the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration at a more stately 20 Mbps.

Eventually, this technology might help NASA stay in contact with very distant spacecraft. For now, I just wish they'd point the laser at my house.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post, focusing on telecom, broadband and digital politics. Before joining the Post, he was the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic.
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