NASA’s New Mars Rover Is Ready for Space Lasers

Visible both in the inset photograph on the upper left and near the center of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover in this illustration is the palm-size dome called the Laser Retroreflector Array (LaRA). In the distant future, laser-equipped Mars orbiters could use such a reflector for scientific studies. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Perseverance is one of a few Mars spacecraft carrying laser retroreflectors. The devices could provide new science and safer Mars landings in the future.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — When the Apollo astronauts landed on the Moon, they brought devices with them called retroreflectors, which are essentially small arrays of mirrors. The plan was for scientists on Earth to aim lasers at them and calculate the time it took for the beams to return. This provided exceptionally precise measurements of the Moon’s orbit and shape, including how it changed slightly based on Earth’s gravitational pull.

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Laser Beams Reflected Between Earth and Moon Boost Science

This photograph shows the laser-ranging facility at the Goddard Geophysical and Astronomical Observatory in Greenbelt, Md. The facility helps NASA keep track of orbiting satellites. Both beams shown, coming from two different lasers, are pointed at NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is orbiting the Moon. (Credits: NASA)

by Lonnie Shekhtman
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — Dozens of times over the last decade NASA scientists have launched laser beams at a reflector the size of a paperback novel about 240,000 miles (385,000 kilometers) away from Earth. They announced today, in collaboration with their French colleagues, that they received signal back for the first time, an encouraging result that could enhance laser experiments used to study the physics of the universe.

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First Laser Detection of Space Debris in Daylight

A visible green laser shone from ESA’s Optical Ground Station (OGS). Part of Teide Observatory, the OGS located 2400 m above sea level on the volcanic island of Tenerife, used for the development of optical communication systems for space as well as space debris and near-Earth orbject surveys and quantum communication experiments. (Credit: IAC– Daniel López)

Lasers on Earth are used to measure the position of space debris high above, providing crucial information on how to avoid in-space collisions. Until now, this technique has suffered from a fatal flaw.

For some time, lasers could only be used to measure the distance to space debris during the few twilight hours in which the ‘laser ranging’ station on Earth is in darkness, but debris objects high above are still bathing in the last of the Sun’s rays.

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An Overview of France’s Counterspace Capabilities

Global Counterspace Capabilities:
An Open Source Assessment

Secure World Foundation
April 2020

Full Report

The following excerpt from the report summarizes France’s counterspace capabilities.

Country Summary

While France has long had a space program, as well as military satellites, it was not until very recently that France had an explicit focus on offensive and defensive counterspace capabilities.

The major change occurred in July 2019 with the release of the first French Space Defense Strategy, which elevated French military space organization and reassigned control of French military satellites from the French space agency to the military.

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A Summary of Russia’s Counterspace Capabilities

In 2009, the defunct Cosmos 2251 satellite and the Iridium 33 satellite collided in Earth’s orbit. A Livermore visualization shows the orbits of the two satellites prior to the collision among the thousands of other satellites in low-Earth orbit. The collision occurred where the two orbital paths cross near the North Pole. (Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

Global Counterspace Capabilities:
An Open Source Assessment

Secure World Foundation
April 2020

Full Report

The following excerpt from the report summarizes Russia’s counterspace capabilities.

There is strong evidence that Russia has embarked on a set of programs over the last decade to regain many of its Cold War-era counterspace capabilities. Since 2010, Russia has been testing technologies for rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) in both low Earth orbit 9LEO) and geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) that could lead to or support a co-orbital anti-satellite (ASAT) capability. Evidence suggests at least two active programs: a new co-orbital ASAT program called Burevestnik that is potentially supported by a surveillance and tracking program called Nivelir.

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MOONRISE: Melting Moon Dust with a Laser

A laser on a lunar rover. (Credit: LZH)

HANNOVER, Germany (LZH PR) — The moon – Earth satellite, first waypost on the way to other planets, enormously important for space research: With the ambitious MOONRISE project, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) and the Institute of Space Systems (IRAS) of the Technical University of Braunschweig are aiming at melting moon dust with a laser in order to make it usable as building material.

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NASA Team Investigates Ultrafast Laser Machining for Multiple Spaceflight Applications

A Goddard team is using an ultrafast laser to bond dissimilar materials, with the goal of ultimately eliminating epoxies that outgas and contaminate sensitive spacecraft components. Shown here are a few samples (from left to right): silica welded to copper; silica welded to Invar; and sapphire welded to Invar. (Credits: NASA/W. Hrybyk)

By Lori Keesey
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

An ultrafast laser that fires pulses of light just 100 millionths of a nanosecond in duration could potentially revolutionize the way that NASA technicians manufacture and ultimately assemble instrument components made of dissimilar materials.

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Lasers in Space: Earth Mission Tests New Technology

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Imagine standing on the roof of a building in Los Angeles and trying to point a laser so accurately that you could hit a particular building in San Diego, more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) away. This accuracy is required for the feat that a novel technology demonstration aboard the soon-to-launch Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission will aim to achieve. For the first time, a promising technique called laser ranging interferometry will be tested between two satellites.

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NIAC Projects Target Mars, Venus & Pluto

Pluto Hop, Skip, and Jump mission. (Credit: Benjamin Goldman)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

An airship for Mars, two spacecraft capable of exploring the hellish environment of Venus, and a fusion-powered orbiter and lander for Pluto are three of the planetary-related research projects recently funded by theNASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

In all, NIAC funded eight advanced projects focused on Mars, Venus and Pluto in its latest annual funding round. The space agency also funded two proposals aimed at identifying and extracting resources on planets, moons and asteroids.
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NIAC Awards Take Aim at Asteroid Mining, ISRU

Asteroid Itokawa (Credit: JAXA)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently awarded five grants for the development of new technologies for analyzing asteroids, extracting resources from them, and using the materials for new space products.

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Bandwidth Starved Satellite Imagery Providers Could Bring Data to the Ground Via Lasers

On 22 October 2013, NASA's Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD), on board the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft, made history using a pulsed laser beam to transmit data over the 400 000 km between Earth and the Moon at a record-breaking download rate of 622 megabits per second (Mbps). (Credit: NASA)
On 22 October 2013, NASA’s Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD), on board the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft, made history using a pulsed laser beam to transmit data over the 400 000 km between Earth and the Moon at a record-breaking download rate of 622 megabits per second (Mbps). (Credit: NASA)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Draper PR) Commercial satellite imagery firms launch new constellations to take frequent, high-resolution video and photographs of the Earth to improve decision-making for agricultural, environmental, humanitarian, commercial and national security issues. Increased accessibility of images and data from space provide views of the Earth that help optimize tasks ranging from planting crops to shaping traffic patterns on land and sea.

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Moving Spacecraft Through Laser Propulsion

The effectiveness of current laser-propulsion techniques is limited by the instability of supersonic gas flow, caused by shock waves that “choke” the inlet of the nozzle, reducing thrust. Those effects can be reduced with the help of laser ablation, redirecting the plasma plume so that it flows close to the interior walls of a supersonic nozzle and significantly improving the overall thrust. (Credit: Y.Rezunkov/IOIE)
The effectiveness of current laser-propulsion techniques is limited by the instability of supersonic gas flow, caused by shock waves that “choke” the inlet of the nozzle, reducing thrust. Those effects can be reduced with the help of laser ablation, redirecting the plasma plume so that it flows close to the interior walls of a supersonic nozzle and significantly improving the overall thrust. (Credit: Y.Rezunkov/IOIE)

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29, 2014 (OSA PR) —Scientists and science fiction writers alike have dreamt of aircrafts that are propelled by beams of light rather than conventional fuels. Now, a new method for improving the thrust generated by such laser-propulsion systems may bring them one step closer to practical use.

The method, developed by physicists Yuri Rezunkov of the Institute of Optoelectronic Instrument Engineering, Russia and Alexander Schmidt of the Ioffe Physical Technical Institute in Saint Petersburg, Russia is described today in The Optical Society’s (OSA) journal Applied Optics.

Currently, the maximum speed of a spacecraft is limited by the amount of solid or liquid fuel that it can carry. Achieving higher speeds means that more fuel must be burned—fuel that, inconveniently, has to be carried by the craft and hefted into space. These burdensome loads can be reduced, however, if a laser—one located at a remote location, and not actually on the spacecraft—were used to provide additional propulsive force.

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NASA Shoots Laser From Moon, Fails to Destroy Anything

On 22 October 2013, NASA's Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD), on board the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft, made history using a pulsed laser beam to transmit data over the 400 000 km between Earth and the Moon at a record-breaking download rate of 622 megabits per second (Mbps). (Credit: NASA)
On 22 October 2013, NASA’s Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD), on board the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft, made history using a pulsed laser beam to transmit data over the 400 000 km between Earth and the Moon at a record-breaking download rate of 622 megabits per second (Mbps). (Credit: NASA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA’s ground station on the island of Tenerife has received laser signals over a distance of 400,000 km from NASA’s latest Moon orbiter. The data were delivered many times faster than possible with traditional radio waves, marking a significant breakthrough in space communications.

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, was launched on 7 September and arrived in orbit around the Moon in October. In addition to probing the Moon’s environment, it’s also carrying a new laser terminal.

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Laser Communications Set for LADEE Moon Mission

A laser from Optical Ground Station on Tenerife. (Credit: ESA)
A laser from Optical Ground Station on Tenerife. (Credit: ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — An advanced laser system offering vastly faster data speeds is now ready for linking with spacecraft beyond our planet following a series of crucial ground tests. Later this year, ESA’s observatory in Spain will use the laser to communicate with a NASA Moon orbiter.

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DLR Developing Method to Detect Tiny Space Debris Using Lasers

The Institute of Technical Physics at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) develops and builds lasers. In the future, lasers will be capable of detecting items of space debris and accelerating the decay of their orbits. Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

DLR and the Laser Station in Graz provide Europe’s first ever demonstration of laser location

DLR PR — Every year, the number of small items of debris in space rises by tens of thousands. This number is currently based on estimates, as it has not been possible to track space debris accurately. Researchers at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) are developing an optical observation system with a powerful laser, the pulses from which can detect particles only a few centimetres in diameter and allow determination of their orbits. The concept was tested for the first time in January 2012, in collaboration with the Laser Station in the Austrian city of Graz. This is the first time that the orbits of spent launcher components have been measured using a laser in Europe. In the future, an even more powerful laser will be capable of deflecting these particles out of their orbits, causing them to incinerate as they re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.

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