OPALS (Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science) is an optical communication in outer space experiment developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the International Space Station. It is testing the potential for using an optical laser to transmit data, at much higher rates than traditional space-based RF communications, to Earth from space. It was launched to the orbital station aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on 18 April 2014, as part of the unpressurized payload cargo of the SpaceX CRS-3 Dragon spacecraft.
The mission has been considered a success as of December 2014. There were two major accomplishments:
- A massive speed increase taking 3.5 seconds to download a video that traditionally would have taken 10 minutes
- Ability to re-acquire tracking after signal was lost due to cloud cover
- NASA's OPALS to Beam Data From Space Via Laser
- L. Smith, Stephanie; Buck, Joshua; Anderson, Susan (21 April 2014). "JPL Cargo Launched to Space Station". Jet PropulsionLaboratory (NASA). Retrieved 2014-04-22.
- Landau, Elizabeth (9 December 2014). "OPALS: Light Beams Let Data Rates Soar". Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA). Retrieved 18 December 2014.
- OPALS Project page at JPL
- David G. Aviv (2006): Laser Space Communications, ARTECH HOUSE. ISBN 1-59693-028-4.
- OPALS details on sensors/cameras, mounting locations, etc.
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