In an impressive feat of simultaneous laser communication and tracking, NASA succeeded in sending an image of the Mona Lisa from Earth to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft currently mapping the Moon.
The digital form of the world-famous da Vinci painting came from the Next Generation Satellite Laser Ranging (NGSLR) station at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. The LRO spacecraft used its Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) instrument to receive the image. It verified the successful transmission by sending back the image via its radio telemetry system.
This is reportedly the first instance that one-way laser communication has been achieved over planetary distances. The method is being investigated for use aboard satellites as a possible backup for radio communications, as well as increasing the data resolution over the current standard set by radio links.
This successful feat will contribute to the the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) that NASA plans for the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE,) the US space agency’s next moon mission.
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