Taking broadband to the moon

There’s something about bandwidth in space that simultaneously evokes the responses ‘Oh Cool’ and ‘That sounds so primitive’. That’s true for me with the report on various news sources this week about an actual 622Mbps broadband connection between the Earth and the Moon, or more precisely to the Lunar and Atmospheric Dust Environment Explorer probe that is currently orbiting it.
 
It seems that NASA has finally discovered how to use lasers to send information between two points, and that you can get more bandwidth that way than via radio signals. On one level, it’s amazing that we’re still using the same technology to talk to space missions as we did when the Apollo programs were going up.
 
Of course, it’s one thing to point a laser through glass fiber over a few hundred or thousand kilometers and get something out the other side. It’s quite another to keep a laser continuously trained on an object 384,400 kilometers away that’s moving at 3,650 kilometers per hour from a spot on the surface of a sphere spinning around at 1,675 kilometers per hour and wobbling on its axis to boot. Seemed easy until I made it a physics problem, didn’t it.
 
Then again, while it may make a physics student shudder in fear, it is solvable and if NASA can bounce-land a remote controlled rover on Mars using glorified airbags and drive it around for years it probably ought to have that sort of thing licked too.
 
But the fact that they’ve managed to get 622Mbps of bandwidth to the Moon is a big deal even it does seem to have taken a while – just like everything in space since the 70s. And even if it is less than you can get in Kansas City for the price of a gym membership. Now let’s see them hit Mars.

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