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In an engineering test, LADEE successfully used a laser to beam information back from the Moon this past weekend.
Lasers could enhance space communications and lead to radical changes in spacecraft design. Today’s spacecraft communicate with radio, but radiofrequency wavelengths are so long that they require large dishes to capture the signals. Laser wavelengths are 10,000 times shorter than radio, the upshot being that a spacecraft could deliver much more data then even the best modern radio system. For scale, NASA says that the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft that’s carrying this laser experiment would take 639 hours to download an average-length HD movie using ordinary S-band communications. LLCD could download the film in less than eight minutes.