NASA has announced that it is set to send the OPALS – or Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science – device to the ISS. What that means is that NASA is sending a laser up to the ISS that can be used to send messages including HD video back to the Earth with more bandwidth and speed than conventional methods. This is a big deal since the amount of data being sent back to Earth is growing constantly.
The OPALS device will be able to send data, including video, to Earth in the form of laser transmissions and is likened to upgrading from dial-up to cable at your home. The conventional method used to send data back from the ISS has about 200 to 400 Kbps of bandwidth. The lasercom device will be able to provide up to 50 Mbps of speed.
NASA says that in the future a similar deep space laser device will be able to support transmissions from Mars at up to 1 Gbps. The laser will head to the ISS this week aboard the SpaceX Dragon resupply cargo ship – assuming that the rocket overcomes its current launch delay.