Laser Message from Space Says 'Hello World'


On June 5th, 2014, the ISS passed over the Table Mountain Observatory in Wrightwood, CA, and beamed an HD video to researchers waiting below. Unlike normal data transmissions, which are encoded in radio waves, this one came to Earth on a beam of light. "It was incredible to see this magnificent beam of light arriving from our tiny payload on the space station," says Matt Abrahamson, who manages the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Better known as 'OPALS,' the experimental laser device was launched to the space station onboard a Space-X Dragon spacecraft in the spring of 2014. Its goal is to explore the possibility of high-bandwidth space communications using light instead of radio waves. If successful, researchers say OPALS would be like an upgrade from dial-up to DSL, achieving data rates 10 to 1,000 times higher than current space communications.