As astronauts aboard the International Space Station send back more and more data, NASA is working to find a connection that can keep up with the flow of information. The answer: lasers.
On Monday, NASA is launching optical communication equipment aboard SpaceX-3. Once installed, it will allow ground crews to establish a "lasercom" connection with the ISS.
Just how fast is a laser-based space connection? Well, most space operations currently use radio frequencies that operate at 200 to 400 kilobits per second. The OPALS (Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science) connection will come in at 50 megabits per second.
"It's like upgrading from dial-up to DSL," said NASA's Bogdan Oaida.
By comparison, South Korea tops global average Internet speed at 22 megabits per second.
In the future, NASA hopes to transmit to and from Mars at a gigabit per second. That's the speed Google Fiber claims to offer, which it pegs at 100 times the speed of average broadband.
For now, astronauts will have to keep their super-fast streaming to short cat videos: OPALS will only provide 100 seconds of connection at a time as ground instruments hold a line of site with the station.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.