NASA tests laser communications in space between two CubeSat satellites

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One CubeSat emitted a laser flash that was recorded by the infrared camera on board another CubeSat

NASA has conducted a successful laser communications test between two of its CubeSat satellites. 

The experiment was carried out using the Optical Communications and Sensor Demonstration (OCSD) spacecraft; and, the Integrated Solar Array and Reflectarray Antenna (ISARA) spacecraft.

In the experiment, the laser communications system on board the OCSD spacecraft emitted a laser flash that was aimed at a short-wavelength infrared camera on board the ISARA spacecraft.

The infrared camera, which is one of three cameras comprising the CubeSat Multispectral Observation System payload on board ISARA spacecraft, successfully recorded the optical communications beam.

When the test was conducted, the ISARA and OCSD spacecraft were located at a distance of 2,414 kilometres from each other and about 451 kilometres above Earth.

Normally, both the OCSD laser and ISARA camera face Earth, but to accomplish the additional crosslink achievement during the experiment, they were tilted slightly to point at one another.

According to scientists, the experiment demonstrates that an optical crosslink between two CubeSats can be established with the proper alignment between the emitting and receiving spacecraft.

The capability can be further refined to create a constellation of tiny satellites able to transmit a high volume of data between CubeSats in a low-Earth orbit or even in a lunar orbit.

The OCSD project consists of three CubeSats launched as secondary payloads on two distinct missions. The mission, which carried one CubeSat in space, was launched in October 2015 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The second OCSD mission was launched in November 2017 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia. In this mission, two more CubeSats were sent into space.

The primary aim of OCSD mission is to demonstrate high-speed optical data transmission and small spacecraft proximity operations in space using technologies that involve proximity sensors, a low-power laser communication system, and water-based propulsion system.

To date, NASA scientists have successfully demonstrated 200 megabits per second optical communications between OCSD CubeSats and a telescope on ground.

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