How to watch NASA’s Laser Communications launch early on Monday

Update, December 5: The launch has been scrubbed due to a leak in the propellant storage system. It has been rescheduled for Monday, December 6 at 4:04 a.m. ET (12:30 a.m. PT).

NASA’s communication system will soon be getting a serious upgrade, with the launch of the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) set for early tomorrow morning, Monday, December 6. We’ve got the details on the launch and how to watch it live.

Most current NASA missions use radio frequency communications to send data back to Earth. The Perseverance rover, for example, beams data to one of the spacecraft orbiting the planet, which then sends it on to Earth, where it is picked up by the giant dishes of NASA’s Deep Space Network. However, this system has limited bandwidth, and with more and more complex instruments being sent into space, more bandwidth is needed to send communications more efficiently.

Illustration of NASA's Laser Communications Relay Demonstration communicating over laser links.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

The solution is to use a different frequency for communications. Changing over to laser communications (also known as optical communications) will allow a bandwidth increase of between 10 and 100 times that of radio communications. But this change requires new infrastructure, which the LCRD project will test.

“NASA is taking a step toward the next era of space communications with the launch of its Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) on Sunday, December. 5,” the agency writes. “Laser communications – also called optical communications because they use light to send information — offer higher data rates than traditional radio frequency systems, enabling more data to be transmitted with each transmission. LCRD will demonstrate space-to-ground laser communications linking ground stations in Hawaii and California. Later in the mission, LCRD will receive and transmit data from an optical terminal that NASA will place on the International Space Station.”

How to watch the LCRD launch

The relay system will be launched on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, as part of a Space Force mission named Space Test Program 3 (STP-3).

The launch will be livestreamed by NASA on its NASA TV channel. You can watch either by heading to NASA’s website or by using the video player embedded above.

Coverage begins at 3:30 a.m. ET (12:30 a.m. PT) on Monday, December 6, and the two-hour launch window is scheduled to begin at 4:04 a.m. ET (1:04 a.m. PT). If that’s rather too early — or too late! — for you then don’t worry, you can rewatch the event after it’s happened by heading to the NASA YouTube channel.

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