Those boffins at NASA are currently developing an optical laser system that will not only increase data rates, but also increase speed space communications by a factor of one hundred. According to the US Space Agency, the new system will also decrease the mass, size and power limits for interstellar communication.

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The Laser Communications Relay technology is going to be trialled by NASA within the next four years in order to test communications in near-earth and deep-space human and robotic missions. Currently space communication is done on radio frequency (RF) systems. This severely limits data transmission rates and takes 90 minutes for a single high-resolution image to be beamed back to Earth from Mars.  The new laser based system would allow 100 Mbps data rates instead of 6Mbps allowing a image to be beamed back in five minutes. For near-Earth communications, laser-based systems would speed communications up from Mbps to Gbps.

“Optical communication will enable rapid return of the voluminous data associated with sending spacecraft and humans to new frontiers,” said NASA chief technologist Bobby Braun in the statement.

Laser communications could also allow missions to use more bandwidth-hungry equipment such as hyperspectral imagers that collect images across the range of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The Laser Communications Relay will be tested on a demonstration mission planned for launch in 2016, and is part of a $175m (£106m) package to develop disruptive space technologies. Similiar projects will include solar sail deployments which NASA hopes will reduce the costs of commercial space flights.

If it’s successful, expect the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration Mission to be used by other US government agencies and possibly Earth-bound communication vendors.