This little box made a big record

This little box made a big record

TBIRD may not seem big, but this CubeSat could be a precursor to an important paradigm shift for NASA.

Launched on Wednesday, May 25, the smallest cube-shaped satellite will now serve a much larger purpose than its size suggests: NASA hopes to quickly break the record for the fastest laser data transfer from space.

TeraByte InfraRed Delivery, or TBIRD, was dropped into orbit last Wednesday by SpaceX’s Transporter-5 mission. Since then, he patiently devotes time; During the test, which is scheduled for a few days, this small device, which looks like a gold-plated showbox, will be a difficult task to transport. Thanks to the continuous data laser over 200 Gbps for 7 minutes from space.

This impressive transfer rate will be a NASA record in the field of optical communications. This is not the substrate generally preferred by engineers. Basic concepts are generally well mastered; But laser data transfer is better at this time Less popular than good old radio waves.

The future of light and space communication

But no matter how efficient it is, this technology is slowly starting to show its limitations. As NASA talks about conquering the Moon and Mars, the next generation of data transfer infrastructure will be needed very soon to match its new objectives.

As new scientific instruments and imaging systems take advantage of the latest technological advances, they bring back large amounts of data to us every day.”, Warns Jason Mitchell, director of the Division of Advanced Communication and Navigation Technologies. “

© NASA / Dave Ryan

That’s the proof of what she expects from this little TBIRD. He is going “Will be very important for the future of game changer and human research and science”Explains Andreas Toulaveris, the engineer in charge of the engine at NASA’s prestigious Goddard Space Flight Center.

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Better than radio waves

For good reason: In a functional environment, the laser has many advantages over radio. However both are based on the same support, i.e. electromagnetic waves; But the infrared radiation generated by this laser has a much shorter wavelength than radio waves.

It makes a huge difference. Because in practice, to send information, researchers introduce subtle changes in the shape of the wave. Too bad, if the wavelength is low, it means that there are more units capable of carrying information. In practice, this information is not exchanged fast; However, more data can be sent in a single transaction.

Getting the floor. © NASA Goddard Space Aviation Center

And the icing on the cake is easy to integrate with space laser contact equipment. They are considerably lighter and less bulky than their radio equivalents at equal power. Two of the most important points in the field of aerospace, engineers observe the slightest excess of grams or centimeters without rest.

TBIRD will be tested within 6 months; Until then, NASA hopes this small box of gold will allow it to make a big leap forward. If these tests are successful, it will mark the beginning of a real technological change. These advances in space communications are sensible and less publicized than rockets; But they are also fundamental to the future of space conquest. The size of a large grain box is not bad for the machine!

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