NASA Is About To Test Space Internet With Lasers On ISS, Here’s How

As NASA plans to increase its activities in Low Earth Orbit And beyond, the agency is seeing the need to establish a powerful space Internet to boost its communication with our technologies in space. The American Space Agency is getting ready to test space internet that takes advantage of lasers to transmit and receive data at gigabit speeds.

NASA is planning to launch a new device named ILLUMA-T to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2023. This new technology will connect with a laser relay satellite named LCRD that was previously launched in 2021. NASA is hoping to achieve its first two-way, end-to-end laser communication system through this innovation.

NASA recently released a statement revealing how the ILLUMA-T development is handled by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in partnership with the International Space Station program division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and also the Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Hence, it is worthwhile to note that many experts are contributing their knowledge to the success of this project.

What NASA Hopes to Achieve Space Internet with Lasers

NASA is working on the ILLUMA-T project as a technology demonstration mission which will reveal the benefits of laser communications for space missions in low Earth orbit. The agency is hoping that laser communication will deploy invisible infrared light to send information at higher data rates than commonly used radio frequency systems currently in use by most space agencies to communicate with their spacecraft.

Hence, future missions using laser communication technology will transmit more images and videos back to Earth within a shorter period. Unlike radio frequency systems, Laser systems use lighter and less power to communicate. Hence, NASA can extend the operation duration of spacecraft when the communication system consumes less power. NASA engineers are building the ILLUMA-T spacecraft to be about the size of a fridge.

The agency is also planning to attach the spacecraft to an external module of the International Space Station. Badri Younes, the former NASA SCaN program deputy associate administrator revealed that the laser communication systems will boost the adaptability of missions and improve the speed of the data transmission process from space. The technology will also be part of several demonstrations starting from Earth’s proximity to the moon and other deep space missions.

How ILLUMA-T and LCRD Will Operate To Test The Space Internet

NASA is planning the LCRD mission as a laser relay satellite that will to low Earth orbit and orbit 22,000 miles (~ 35,400 kilometers) from Earth. From this point, it will transmit data between two ground stations in Hawaii and California. NASA is also developing the LCRD to conduct scientific experiments that will help to improve NASA’s laser potential in space.

Matt Magsamen, the deputy project manager for ILLUMA-T revealed that the primary goal of the mission is to transmit enriched data revealing detailed images and videos to LCRD at a speed of 1.2 gigabits per second (Gbps). The transmitted data will move from the LCRD to ground stations. The outcome of this mission will determine how NASA will use Laser communications to obtain detailed data at a faster data transmission speed in future missions to the moon, Mars, and beyond.

Other Missions Which Have Demonstrated The Use Of Laser Communications In Space

NASA’s Laser Communications Roadmap Showing laser communications capabilities on several missions. (Image Credit: NASA/Dave Ryan)

Even though ILLUMA-T is not the first mission to demonstrate laser communications in Space, NASA is hoping that this mission will move it closer to incorporating this futuristic technology in its future missions.

Laser communications have been tasted in several missions including the TeraByte InfraRed Delivery system, flown as a tiny CubeSat in low Earth Orbit, the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration, which sent data to and from the Moon in 2014, and the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science, that demonstrated how laser communications can boost the speed of data transfer between Earth and space in 2017. However, this forthcoming testing will revolutionize the use of laser communications for high speed space internet.

When Will ILLUMA-T Launch?

NASA is planning to launch ILLUMA-T on SpaceX’s 29th Commercial Resupply Services mission for the American space agency. Once it arrives at the International Space Station, the crew onboard will install it on the Japanese Experiment Module-Exposed Facility (JEM-EF). The team regulating the ILLUMA-T will proceed to test the device and ensure that it is ready to receive its first light.

Upon receiving its first light, the communication system will then send its first laser beam to LCRD. NASA is planning to continue data transmission and laser communication tests throughout the planned mission. From this mission, the agency hopes to learn how to use this technology in future missions.


NASA is developing ILLUMA-T laser communication technology that will be helpful aboard the ISS to test space internet using laser communication in space. Once the ILLUMA-T receives data, it will transmit it to the LCRD satellite which will proceed to send it to ground stations located in Hawaii and California. If you have an interest in observing the beauty of the Universe, you should consider purchasing any of these sophisticated telescopes.

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