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New Study Closer to Upgrading Inter-Spacecraft Laser Ranging

The Australian Government offers financial support to scientists at The Australian National University (ANU), helping Canberra reach a step ahead to being Australia’s home to deep space laser communication.

New Study Closer to Upgrading Inter-Spacecraft Laser Ranging.
Associate Francis Bennet will lead one of two new ANU projects to help propel deep space missions. Image Credit: Lannon Harley/Australian National University.

Two projects from ANU have received financial support from The Australian Moon to Mars Demonstrator Feasibility Grants from the Australian Space Agency to enable the testing of new activities that will take space exploration to the next level.

Of the two projects, the first one will involve the construction of a prototype deep-space laser communications transmitter that is compatible with optical communication technology designed by NASA for missions such as the Optical to Orion (O2O) illustration, at a specialist facility in the ACT.

Ultimately, the facility could be utilized by NASA to promote deep space missions.

This funding is going to allow us to build a prototype system compatible with future NASA missions which are going to deep space.

Francis Bennet, Project Lead and Associate Professor, Australian National University

Bennet added, “This is crucial to enable permanent operations on the Moon, improve astronauts’ ability to connect to those back on Earth and even allow high-definition video to be sent and received from the surface of the Moon and Mars.”

Financial support of $200,000 has been received by the ANU Quantum Optical Ground Station to help scientists and industry access unused data about the universe. At present, the laser communications ground station at the Mt Stromlo Observatory in Canberra is being constructed by the ANU.

The station will have laser communication systems which will allow very high speed communications for crewed and robotic missions going back to the Moon,” stated Associate Professor Bennet, who is a Mission Specialist at the ANU Institute for Space (InSpace).

This next space technology leap is going to be to laser communication, so this research will help enable that here in Australia. It's like what you can do with faster speeds on your home Internet. This will enable more advanced technologies to travel further into space and transmit information back,” added Bennet.

This funding will offer a pathway to a network of optical ground stations that could be utilized for space exploration in the future.

It’s really exciting that we are able to build technology that could be used for future based communication for crewed missions.

Francis Bennet, Project Lead and Associate Professor, Australian National University

One more team from the ANU has been funded over $100,000 to design laser measurement technology for the next-generation gravity sensing mission, possibly for launch in the mid-2020s.

The project will be guided by Associate Professor Kirk McKenzie, who is also a Mission Specialist at InSpace.

The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) missions make global measurements of water motion, revealing effects of droughts on groundwater and aquifers and ice caps evolution over years and decades, crucial to understanding the effects of our evolving climate.

Kirk McKenzie, Associate Professor and Mission Specialist at InSpace, Australian National University

The project has provided a successful decadal Australian or NASA collaboration and also collaborators with CEA Technologies, which is an Australian radar technology company based in Canberra, to build the laser stabilization prototype.

This is an important first step to upgrade inter-spacecraft laser ranging, so measuring the distances between spacecraft within millimeters via lasers. It will also allow us to contribute to crucial Earth observations,” stated Associate Professor McKenzie.

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