SCIENCE
10/24/2013 11:57 am ET

NASA Beams Lasers At Moon, Sets New Record For Data Transfer (VIDEO)

Talk about fast downloads!

NASA this week set a new data-transmission record for space-based communication when it used a pulsed laser beam to send data to the moon, reaching a download rate of 622 megabits per second (Mbps). The space agency also achieved an upload rate of 20 Mbps. The data were beamed from a ground station in New Mexico to the agency's new Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) orbiter.

For the uninitiated, data transfer is often measured by two speeds: download (such as downloading a file from the Internet to a computer) and upload. Download rates tend to be faster.

But don't start daydreaming about watching Netflix on the moon just yet. NASA is using its Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) to transfer scientific data, not surf the web. Nevertheless, the results of the recent test are impressive, considering that the download and upload rates between Earth and the moon surpass average connection speeds in countries around the world. In the U.S., for example, the average connection speed is 7.4 Mbps, according to Akamai's most recent "State of the Internet" report.

It seems the extra boost lies in the method of transmitting data. Instead of radio waves, LLCD uses lasers -- which may be a better bet for transmitting large quantities of data into deep space.

"LLCD is the first step on our roadmap toward building the next generation of space communication capability," NASA's Badri Younes said in a written statement.

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