NASA’s TBIRD (TeraByte InfraRed Delivery) satellite, a compact satellite the size of a tissue box, has set a remarkable milestone by achieving the fastest data transfer rate ever recorded in space. According to a recent NASA post, TBIRD demonstrated a space-to-ground optical link speed of 200 gigabits per second (Gbps) on April 28. This orbital laser light communications system doubled its own previous record, set less than a year ago.

NASA emphasizes that “ultra-high-speed” optical communication has the potential to transmit significantly more information compared to traditional space communication systems. Recognizing its potential, NASA has announced plans to test this technology during its Artemis II mission scheduled for next year, which could enable Moon-bound astronauts to stream high-definition footage back to Earth in near real-time.

During the recent TBIRD test, the system successfully transferred 3.6 terabytes of data in just six minutes during a pass above its ground station. With a data transfer rate of 200 Gbps, NASA stated that it could transmit the equivalent of thousands of hours of HD footage or approximately one million songs to Earth at a time. Beth Keer, the mission manager for TBIRD at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, expressed excitement about this achievement, stating that it would revolutionize space communication: “Achieving 100 Gbps in June was groundbreaking, and now we’ve doubled that data rate – this capability will change the way we communicate in space.”

NASA has predominantly relied on its Deep Space Network, utilizing radio waves to exchange information with satellites and spacecraft. However, the TBIRD system, launched aboard SpaceX’s Transporter-5 rideshare mission in May of the previous year, has paved the way for significant advancements. In June 2022, TBIRD achieved a major breakthrough by transmitting data at 100 Gbps during a flyover of its ground station, which it passes over twice a day.

Beth Keer further emphasized the potential of laser communications, envisioning the future power of space science instruments when designed to fully leverage the advancements in detector speeds and sensitivities. She believes that laser communications will bridge the gap and enable groundbreaking scientific discoveries supported by artificial intelligence and vast amounts of data.

The accomplishments of the TBIRD satellite mark a significant step forward in space communication technology, paving the way for enhanced data transmission and opening new possibilities for scientific exploration in the years to come.

By Impact Lab