Bidirectional space communication is a fundamental prerequisite for maintaining contact with objects performing missions in space, whether manned and unmanned. Until recently, it relied solely on the propagation of electromagnetic waves (the radio) using frequency bands dedicated for objects outside the Earth's atmosphere. However, modern space technologies are subject to ongoing development as they are being fitted with advanced communication systems. Given the constant enhancement of our technological capabilities, the traditional radio-based communication shows a glaring inadequacy and contributes to the widening of a gap between this and the high technology of on-board devices installed on modern spacecraft. The technology that complies with the up-to-date requirements of space communication is optical space communication. It is expected to provide for high-speed data transfer and increase the bandwidth several times, while ensuring immunity to common cyber threats, including jamming, spoofing and meaconing. The deployment of laser-based optical communication will not only contribute to increasing the air and space operation safety levels, but also enable deep space exploration. To this end, NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration Project (LCRD) is currently undergoing development and testing. This chapter undertakes to characterise the emerging technology with respect to its operating principles, the future scope of applications and involvement in currently conducted experiments. The results from the analysis are presented in the form of scenarios outlining possible applications of laser communication.
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