NASA aims to beam HD footage back from its Artemis II Moon mission

The U.S. space agency is developing a laser-based communications network for space.
Chris Young
An illustration of O2O sending optical signal from Orion capsule to Earth.
An illustration of O2O sending optical signal from Orion capsule to Earth.


NASA's Artemis II mission, which will send astronauts around the Moon ahead of the Artemis III Moon landing mission, will test a new laser data transmission technology.

The new technology could completely alter how the space agency communicated with spacecraft. Traditionally, NASA has relied on radio signals beamed through its Deep Space Network to transmit data from probes in deep space.

NASA hopes that its new laser technology will allow it to send larger amounts of data than would be possible using radio signals. It may even allow the space agency to beam high-definition video back from the Moon.

NASA looks to evolve spacecraft data transmission

The massive distances spacecraft travel means transmitting data can be a big challenge. For example, NASA's Mars Perseverance rover can take days to send larger data files, such as the video of the Ingenuity Mars helicopter's first flight. This is due to the fact it transmits data via the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter at roughly 2-3 Mbps.

For NASA's upcoming Artemis II mission, currently slated for next year, the space agency will test laser technology that could allow for much faster data transmission. This, in turn, would enable it to send larger files in a fraction of the time, meaning it could beam high-definition video from the Moon.

The Orion spacecraft that will send four astronauts around the Moon for the Artemis II mission will feature laser communications in the form of the Orion Artemis 2 Optical Communications System (O2O) terminal. The system will allow for data transmission at much higher speeds, enabling Orion to "send back high-resolution images and video from the lunar region," a recent NASA video explained, as per a report.

High-definition footage of Artemis II

The new laser system will also rely on several satellites, including the Laser Communication Relay Demonstration (LCRD) launched by NASA in 2021, as well as the TeraByte InfraRed Delivery (TBIRD) CubeSat. TBIRD was launched last year, demonstrating data transmission rates of 200 Gbps.

The Integrated LCRD Low-Earth-Orbit (LEO) User Modem and Amplifier Terminal (ILLUMA-T) will be sent to the International Space Station later this year.

The new system means people on Earth may be able to view the Moon from close up like never before. The uncrewed Artemis I mission sent back a wealth of high-quality images, but high-definition video footage would provide a fascinating upgrade to what we've seen. It would also allow us to see almost-live updates of the Artemis II astronauts as they make their way around the Moon.

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