Internet usage on Earth become more and more data heavy as new applications and uses are found for the digital network. The same problem exists up in space as more sophisticated probes and missions are sent to the far reaches of the solar system.
To address an inevitable future data-bottleneck of the current RF-based communication systems, NASA is to launch a research mission to trial and investigate the characteristics of a light-based comms network.
It will not be able to reduce the time that is required to receive a signal from, for example, Mars – which at best is just over 3 minutes but can be as much as 22 minutes when the planets are furthest apart. But it will be able to increase the amount of data that can be transmitted – multiplying it by a factor of between 10 and 100. This will allow for more and higher-resolution imagery and data packets from future missions.
Read the press article at NASA here: Laser Communications Relay Demonstration