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News Link • Communications

Lasers help keep CubeSats on target to handle large data downlinks

•, David Szondy

An MIT team is working on a new aiming system that will allow CubeSats to use lasers for high-bandwidth communications with Earth. The new laser-pointing platform uses a second directional beam to keep the primary data beam on focus, allowing the CubeSat to transmit large amounts of data without the need for heavy antennae or wasting propellant.

With their low cost and size of about that of a loaf of bread, CubeSats have a tremendous potential to revolutionize the scientific, commercial, and military exploration and exploitation of space. Instead of a single, large satellite that may not be where it's needed when it's needed, CubeSats can be sent up at a moment's notice or in huge constellations for global coverage of things like the weather or anti-missile defenses. 

But one major drawback for CubeSats is that they aren't very good when it comes to sending back data. Lacking the powerful radio transmitters and large antennae of their bigger siblings, CubeSats can only send back data the equivalent of a few images at a time. However, to make them more practical, CubeSats need to be able to send back things like hyperspectral images in large numbers and quickly. That means being able to transmit data by the terabyte at a high rate. 

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