NASA’s Lunar Orbiter Gets an Art Lesson with Lasers

by Jason Major on January 17, 2013

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In the ultimate example of science imitating art, engineers working with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter recently beamed an image of the Mona Lisa to the LRO and back via laser beam in order to measure the rate of transmission between the spacecraft and Earth. This allowed them to then calibrate their software to correct for any discrepancies between the image sent and the one received, resulting in a picture-perfect result.

Leonardo would definitely have approved.

From NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center:

Mona Lisa smileAs part of the first demonstration of laser communication with a satellite at the moon, scientists with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) beamed an image of the Mona Lisa to the spacecraft from Earth.

The iconic image traveled nearly 240,000 miles in digital form from the Next Generation Satellite Laser Ranging (NGSLR) Station at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, to the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) instrument on the spacecraft. By transmitting the image piggyback on laser pulses that are routinely sent to track LOLA’s position, the team achieved simultaneous laser communication and tracking.

“This test, and the data obtained from it, sets the stage for future high data-rate laser communications demonstrations that will be an essential feature of NASA’s next Moon mission: the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.

Video: NASA/GSFC

About 

A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

zetetic elench January 17, 2013 at 6:28 PM

wow. that is a tricky method of modulation. a hack of the ranging pulses! just think how well it would work if it was designed as a data link. i wonder about metrics. what was the input power of the laser? what was the datarate obtained with this hack? what was the actual error and how large was the image file? they sent the result back by radio? Leonardo, yes.

Hollister David January 17, 2013 at 9:51 PM

I wonder what the bandwidth is? LRO has already achieved 100 Mbps

Dampe January 17, 2013 at 10:56 PM

I prefer Michelangelo… just saying.

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