Mars Laser Will Beam Super-Fast Data

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<b>Mars Laser Will Beam Super-Fast Data </b><br /><br />LINK<br /><br />A laser that can beam data from Mars to Earth at 10 times the rate of current radio links will be sent to the Red Planet in 2009, say NASA scientists. The laser will be the first test of such technology in deep space and may usher in a new era of space communication.<br /><br />"It is the next big thing," says Stephen Townes, deputy manager of the Mars Laser Communication Demonstration at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "There is the promise we will be able to get high data returns with lower power and lower mass than the typical systems out there."<br /><br />NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft currently boasts the highest data transmission rate at 128,000 bits per second. The new laser will beam back between one million and 30 million bits per second, depending on the distance between Mars and Earth. <br /><br />That leap in capacity is due to the different wavelengths of light carrying the data. The laser will use infrared light with a wavelength of 1.06 microns, which is thousands of times shorter than radio waves. Since all light travels at the same speed through space, shorter wavelengths carry more information in the same time.<br /><br />That is crucial for the increasing number of ambitious space missions, says Joss Bland-Hawthorn, head of instrument science at the Anglo-Australian Observatory in Sydney.<br /><br />"Astronomers are losing vast amounts of data from recent satellite missions to Mars," he told New Scientist. "We collect a hundred times more than we can transmit back." <br /><br /><br />Cloudy skies <br /><br /><br />But so-called optical communication has certain drawbacks compared with time-tested methods. Unlike radio waves, clouds can block the laser's photons. And laser beams are narrower than the distended radio wave cones that wash over the entire Earth, making precise pointing of th
 
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