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Researchers Show High-Speed Laser Communications Device For Space

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How laser-based communications with space might look.

A prototype array developed by NASA and NIST researchers reads more information than usual from individual particles of light, and can achieve higher data rates than conventional systems.

Credit: Directed Energy Directorate, USAF

A prototype array built by researchers at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory can read more information than usual from single particles of light. Moreover, it can allow much higher data rates than conventional systems.

The 1.5-by-3-centimeters array-on-a-chip can identify the position of the exact detector in a multi-detector system that absorbs an incoming infrared light particle, or photon. The device also records the signal timing. The technology uses superconducting nanowire single-photon detectors. The current design can count tens of millions of photons per second, but the researchers say it could be scaled up to count nearly a billion photons per second.

Last year, the NIST/JPL team developed detector arrays for the first demonstration of two-way laser communications outside Earth's orbit. The test involved NASA's Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration, in which a record-breaking download rate was achieved as well as an error-free data upload rate of 20 Mbps.

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