This week for the first time ever, NASA successfully sent high-definition video via laser beam from the International Space Station (ISS) to ground. “Hello, World!” came the message from ISS. The 175-megabit video came down through technology known as Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS).
NASA said the goal of the new technology is to improve the efficiency of receiving data to Earth from space. NASA explained the high-tech laser as “an upgrade from dial-up to DSL.” OPALS technology is said to achieve data rates on average 10 to 1,000 times faster than any current space communications systems.
“It’s incredible to see this magnificent beam of light arriving from our tiny payload on the space station,” said the OPALS mission manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. He continued, “We look forward to experimenting with OPALS over the coming months in hopes that our findings will lead to optical communications capabilities for future deep space exploration missions.”
NASA said the OPALS technology requires pinpoint accuracy. The International Space Station moves at an average speed of 17,500 mph. The fast speeds require technologies that can produce the equivalent of a person trying to aim a “laser pointer at the end of a human hair 30 feet away and keeping it there while walking.”
The OPALS technology was transported outside of earth’s orbit into space via the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft. SpaceX is a private space transportation company based in California. NASA has had to rely upon private means as well as Russian state-owned systems to launch its technology into space. Many place blame on the Obama administration’s changing NASA’s priorities.
In 2010, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said NASA’s “foremost” directive was to improve relations with the Muslim world, an initiative he claimed was personally assigned to him by President Obama. Bolden reaffirmed the President wanted NASA to lead the way in making Muslims “feel good” about their “historic contributions” to the world.