The answer may lie not in the vehicle but in the fact that NASA technology needs a complete overhaul. Not having the shuttle sapping resources NASA can focus on its space-tech infrastructure; adding satellites, improving space-based telecommunications, expanding its data base of information and focusing on new propulsion technologies.
In fact, NASA is now working diligently to improve the speed with which it can communicate with all space-based programs, from the Mars rovers to the International Space Station.
The Laser Communications Relay Demonstration is scheduled for 2016. If successful, future astronauts exploring the solar system would be able to supply real-time video and receive immediate feedback and instructions from NASA.
To the latter point, while it currently takes 90 minutes to transmit high-resolution images from Mars, LCRD will allow for actual streaming of high-definition video from distances beyond the moon, according to the space agency.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center came up the idea for the LCRD, which is now being developed by a cross-organizational team that also includes NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. NASA will fly the system into space on a commercial communications satellite developed by Space Systems/Loral.
Dave Israel, who is leading the team developing the network, compared current NASA space communications capability to dial-up Internet speeds. Just as the home Internet user "hit the wall" with that technology, he said in a statement that NASA "is approaching the limit of what its existing communications network can handle."
LCRD, on the other hand, will be more comparable to a land-based optical network such as FIOS from Verizon, Israel added.
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