Since the first space missions, NASA has been relying on radio frequencies for transmitting data. While this technology has served and continues to serve us well, like other wireless communication technologies, it is getting too slow for its users. That is why researchers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and MIT Lincoln Laboratory have built a laser-based communication system.
Receiving data from a space mission is a long process as the frequencies of radio waves are too low for a broadband connection. Lasers operating in the visible light portion of the spectrum though could be a great deal faster, while also being more efficient. Of course employing a laser communication system is easier said than done as the lasers involved have to be precisely targeted at the receivers. Researchers at the European Space Agency have already successfully tested this technology with low-orbiting satellites, but now NASA is going to test it with an upcoming Moon mission; the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration on board Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.
If successful, the mission will be sending hundreds of millions of bits to Earth from the Moon each second, and we will be able to send tens of millions back every second. Then in 2017 the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration will hopefully be sent up to test laser communication technology in the rigors of space.