(Editor’s note: On the tenth day of the 12 Days of Broadband, MCNC spotlights NASA and how it made history this year when it used a laser beam to transmit data from the moon to earth.)

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – NASA once again made history this year.

NASA set a new speed record for data transmission in space in October by beaming information to and from NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) probe using a four-inch, data-packed laser more than 239,000 miles between earth and a spacecraft orbiting the moon.

NASA downloaded data at a rate of 622 Mbps. To put into perspective, the average internet user has a connection speed of 3.3 Mbps. In the United States, the average connection speed is 8.7 Mbps.

The Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) is NASA’s first system for two-way communication using a laser instead of radio waves. It also has demonstrated an error-free data upload rate of 20 Mbps transmitted from the primary ground station in New Mexico to the spacecraft orbiting the moon.

“LLCD is the first step on our roadmap toward building the next generation of space communication capability,” said Badri Younes, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation (SCaN) in Washington. “We are encouraged by the results of the demonstration to this point, and we are confident we are on the right path to introduce this new capability into operational service soon.”

Since NASA first ventured into space, it has relied on radio frequency (RF) communication. However, RF is reaching its limit as demand for more data capacity continues to increase. The development and deployment of laser communications will enable NASA to extend communication capabilities such as increased image resolution and 3-D video transmission from deep space.

Now, we just need wireless laser-routers all over our solar system for an intergalactic internet. But, seriously, how cool would it be to see high-resolution photographs of the solar system “beamed” backed to earth?

“The goal of LLCD is to validate and build confidence in this technology so that future missions will consider using it,” added Don Cornwell, LLCD manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

LADEE launched in September from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. The LLCD system, flight terminal and primary ground terminal at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, N.M., were developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory.

Hosted aboard NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, LLCD is a short-term project and precursor to the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration, which is scheduled to launch in 2017.