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Paris (UPI) Jul 30, 2013
An advanced laser system offering vastly faster data speeds to link with spacecraft beyond our planet has passed a crucial ground test, European scientists say.
A European Space Agency observatory in Spain will use the laser to communicate with a NASA Moon orbiter later this year, a release from ESA's Paris headquarters reported Tuesday.
Laboratory testing has readied the system for a live space demonstration in October when NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer -- LADEE -- begins orbiting the Moon, the ESA said.
LADEE will carrier a terminal that can transmit and receive pulses of laser light, while ESA's Optical Ground Station on Tenerife in the Canary Islands will be upgraded with a complementary unit, is said.
Together with two U.S. ground terminals, it will relay data at unprecedented rates using light beams at a wavelength similar to that used in fiber-optic cables on Earth, researchers said.
"The [laboratory] testing went as planned, and while we identified a number of issues, we'll be ready for LADEE's mid-September launch," Zoran Sodnik, manager for ESA's Lunar Optical Communication Link project, said.
The testing took place in July at a Zurich, Switzerland, facility and made use of a new detector and decoding system, a ranging system and a transmitter.
"Our ground station will join two NASA stations communicating with the LADEE Moon mission, and we aim to demonstrate the readiness of optical communication for future missions to Mars or anywhere else in the Solar System," Sodnik said.
Laser communications units are lighter, smaller and need less power than today's radio systems, promising to cut mission costs and provide opportunities for new science payloads, researchers said.
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