NASA’s Laser Communications Small Satellite Mission Demonstrates Technology First

OCSD satellite (Credit: NASA)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — For the first time, a free-flying CubeSat has successfully completed space-to-ground optical communications. The Optical Communication and Sensor Demonstration (OCSD) mission, designed and built by The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California, sent a laser signal from low-Earth orbit to a ground station at the company’s facilities.

The small satellite transmitted at a data rate of 100 megabits per second – 50 times greater than typical communication systems for this size spacecraft. Lasers mounted aboard the OCSD spacecraft communicated high-quality, error-free signals for short periods of time to the ground.

Additional demonstrations of the lasers will continue with the goal of increasing the rate further beyond 100 megabits per second and potentially to 200 megabits per second. This is a dramatic improvement over most current communications capabilities of small satellites.

OCSD comprises two satellites, each about 4 inches x 4 inches x 6.7 inches. The satellites also completed a planned proximity maneuver that brought them within 20 feet of each other in space.

The demonstration opens the possibility of using small satellites for Earth observations that produce large volumes of data that are beyond the capacity of radio-frequency downlink systems. Higher-data-rate communications may also enable the use of small satellites for deep space exploration, enhanced onboard data processing and coordinated small satellite “swarms” for science applications.

The OCSD mission is funded and managed by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate Small Spacecraft Technology Program.