NASA Laser Beams HD Video From the Space Station

NASA beamed a high-definition video from the International Space Station down to Earth Thursday (June 5) in a demonstration that could pave the way for much speedier deep-space communications down the road.

NASA beamed a high-definition video from the International Space Station down to Earth Thursday (June 5) in a demonstration that could pave the way for much speedier deep-space communications down the road.

The agency's Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) instrument transmitted a new 37-second, 175-megabit video called "Hello, World!" to a ground station in California as the orbiting lab soared 260 miles (418 kilometers) overhead.

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It would ordinarily take more than 10 minutes to beam home something as large as "Hello, World!" using traditional radio-wave communications, NASA officials said. But OPALS transmitted each copy of the new video in just 3.5 seconds.

"It's incredible to see this magnificent beam of light arriving from our tiny payload on the space station," Matt Abrahamson, OPALS mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

"We look forward to experimenting with OPALS over the coming months in hopes that our findings will lead to optical communications capabilities for future deep space exploration missions," he added.

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OPALS transmitted the video Thursday after locking onto a laser beacon shining from the Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory ground station at the Table Mountain Observatory in Wrightwood, California.

Such precise targeting is necessary because the space station is traveling at 17,500 mph (28,160 km/h). Successfully transmitting a message via optical communications from the orbiting lab to Earth is akin to aiming a laser pointer at the end of a single hair from 30 feet (9 meters) and keeping it locked on while walking, NASA officials said.

The entire transmission Thursday took 148 seconds and reached a peak data rate of 50 megabits per second, officials said.

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OPALS arrived at the space station on April 20 aboard SpaceX's robotic Dragon capsule during the company's third contracted cargo run to the orbiting lab for NASA. The instrument is scheduled to operate for a prime mission lifetime of 90 days.

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This image shows Earth's moon moving below NASA's OPALS laser instrument as seen by a robotic camera on the exterior of the International Space Station.


July 15, 2011 --

The final space shuttle mission (STS-135) to the International Space Station (ISS) continues. Supplies have been delivered by shuttle Atlantis and the final "shuttle era" spacewalk has been successfully completed. Here are a selection of photographs from the busy ISS since Atlantis docked with the orbital outpost on July 10.

While Atlantis was docked to the space station, a member of the STS-135 crew snapped this picture of some of the islands in the Bahamas, off the coast of the Florida peninsula (right). Miami can be seen toward the top right of the photograph. Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center are located out of shot in the bottom right of the photo.

Welcomed... Fruit? Shortly after docking with the space station, the Atlantis crew (including STS-135 pilot Doug Hurley, left) gave the resident space station crew supplies of fresh food. With a smile, Expedition 28 flight engineer Mike Fossum (right) receives a bag of fruit.

While aboard the space station, the STS-135 crew are working on many tasks during their short stay. STS-135 commander Chris Ferguson (right) can be seen here working with Japanese astronaut and Expedition 28 flight engineer Satoshi Furukawa in the Quest airlock inspecting space suits assigned to NASA astronauts Mike Fossum and Ron Garan prior to the July 12 spacewalk.

Say "Cheese"! During the six and a half hour spacewalk to retrieve a failed ammonia pump module from an external storage platform and install a robotic refueling demonstration apparatus, NASA astronaut Mike Fossum takes a picture while Atlantis is docked behind him. Fossum can be seen restrained on the end of the space station remote manipulator system (Canadarm2).

Mike Fossum points at the camera as he waits at an International Space Station pressurized mating adapter (PMA-2) docked to the space shuttle Atlantis, as the station's robotic system moves the failed ammonia pump module (out of frame) over to the spacewalking astronaut and the shuttle's cargo bay.

Robotic Assistance Mike Fossum, while attached to Canadarm2, holds the Robotics Refueling Mission payload -- one of the main tasks to be carried out during the spacewalk. The failed pump module can be seen with the two-armed robot, Dextre, on left side of the photo.

Shuttle Stowage With his feet secured to Canadarm2, NASA astronaut Ron Garan carries the failed ammonia pump module toward shuttle Atlantis' open payload bay. When Atlantis returns to Earth on July 21, engineers will study the module to see how it failed and how the problem can be avoided in the future.

In addition to installing/removing space station hardware, STS-135 delivered up to a years-worth of supplies. STS-135 mission specialist Sandy Magnus can be seen here floating inside the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module that Atlantis carried to the space station. Magnus is surrounded by the supplies for consumption of the space station residents for the months ahead.

A Picnic, Shuttle Style Seven astronauts -- six from NASA and one from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) -- and three Russian cosmonauts participate in a special meal on the Space Shuttle Atlantis' middeck on July 14. The STS-135 crew consists of NASA astronauts Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim; the Expedition 28 or station crew members are JAXA astronaut Satoshi Furukawa, NASA astronauts Ron Garan and Mike Fossum, and Russian cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko, Alexander Samokutyaev and Sergei Volkov. All photographs can be found in NASA's Human Spaceflight Gallery.