NASA’s High Bandwidth Laser Communications Relay Demonstration Gears Up for Launch

Illustration of NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration communicating with the International Space Station over laser links. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) is gearing up for launch this fall, no earlier than November 22. The payload arrived in Florida in May, fully integrated into its host spacecraft and ready for its final testing before being lofted into space.

LCRD will leverage the power of infrared light to send and receive information encoded into invisible laser beams from one location to the next. Once in orbit, LCRD will demonstrate the benefits of using infrared lasers to communicate information from space. These benefits include increased data in a single downlink, as well as reduced size, weight, and power requirements for a communications system on a spacecraft.

Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) Overview Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

As part of the final testing campaign, several LCRD team members integrated the last pieces of hardware, completed final inspections, and conducted launch integration systems tests at the Astrotech Space Operations facility in Titusville, Florida. Completed in May, these were the last set of Earth-based tests for the payload, ensuring its readiness for launch. Soon, the host spacecraft will be fueled with propellant and prepared for encapsulation and mating with an Atlas V rocket.

Once the spacecraft is thrusted into space and reaches its destination in geosynchronous orbit – 22,000 miles above Earth’s surface – LCRD will become NASA’s first two-way laser communications relay.

LCRD is a NASA payload aboard the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6). STPSat-6, part of the third Space Test Program (STP-3) mission, will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. STP is operated by the United States Space Force’s Space Systems Command.

LCRD is led by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Partners include NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. LCRD is funded through NASA’s Technology Demonstration Missions program as part of the Space Technology Mission Directorate, and the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program at NASA Headquarters.

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