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NASA’s TBIRD Mission Demonstrates Breaks its Own Record With 200 Gbps Optical Downlink

By Rachel Jewett | May 12, 2023

Rendering of NASA’s TBIRD space-to-ground optical communications demonstration. Screenshot via NASA/Twitter

NASA’s TBIRD mission recently broke its own record for optical communications in space, demonstrating 200 gigabits per second in a space-to-ground optical link from a satellite in orbit to Earth. NASA said this is the highest data rate ever achieved by optical communications technology.

The TBIRD payload — TeraByte InfraRed Delivery — was built by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory and integrated into NASA’s Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator 3 Satellite (PTD-3), built by Terran Orbital. This is part of NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program.

The recent demonstration beat the spacecraft’s previous record of 100 Gbps milestone previously demonstrated by the same team in June 2022. The spacecraft also demonstrated transmitting 1.4 terabytes of test data to a single ground station in a pass that lasted less than five minutes in December

“Achieving 100 Gbps in June was groundbreaking, and now we’ve doubled that data rate – this capability will change the way we communicate in space,” said Beth Keer, mission manager for TBIRD. “Just imagine the power of space science instruments when they can be designed to fully take advantage of the advancements in detector speeds and sensitivities, furthering what artificial intelligence can do with huge amounts of data. Laser communications is the missing link that will enable the science discoveries of the future.”