How to watch NASA’s laser communications launch on Monday

Update, December 5: The launch has been cleaned up due to a leak in the propellant storage system. It has been rescheduled for Monday, December 6 at 4:04 a.m. ET (12:30 p.m. PT).

NASA’s communications system will get a serious upgrade soon, with the Laser Communication Relay (LCRD) demonstration slated for early tomorrow morning, Monday, December 6. We have the launch details and how to watch it live.

Most of NASA’s current missions use radio frequency communications to send data back to Earth. The Perseverance rover, for example, transmits data to one of the spacecraft orbiting the planet, which then sends it to Earth, where it is retrieved by the giant antennas of NASA’s Deep Space Network. However, this system has limited bandwidth, and with increasingly complex instruments sent into space, more bandwidth is needed to send communications more efficiently.

Illustration of the demonstration of the NASA laser communication relay communicating via laser links.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The solution is to use a different frequency for communications. Switching to laser communications (also known as optical communications) will allow an increase in bandwidth between 10 and 100 times greater than that of radio communications. But this change requires new infrastructure, which the LCRD project will test.

“NASA takes a step into the next era of space communications with the launch of its Laser Communication Relay (LCRD) demonstration on Sunday December. 5 “, the agency writing. “Laser communications – also known as optical communications because they use light to send information – offer higher data rates than traditional radio frequency systems, allowing more data to be transmitted with each transmission. The LCRD will demonstrate space-to-ground laser communications connecting ground stations in Hawaii and California. Later in the mission, the LCRD will receive and transmit data from an optical terminal that NASA will place on the International Space Station.

How to watch the LCRD launch

The relay system will be launched on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral space station in Florida, as part of a Space Force mission called Space Test Program 3 (STP-3).

The launch will be broadcast live by NASA on its NASA TV channel. You can watch either by going to the NASA website or using the built-in video player above.

Coverage begins at 3:30 am ET (12:30 am PT) on Monday, December 6, and the two-hour launch window is expected to begin at 4:04 am ET (1:04 am PT). If it’s a little too early – or too late! – for you then don’t worry, you can review the event after it happened by heading to the NASA YouTube Channel.

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