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ILLUMA-T (Integrated Laser Communications Relay Demonstration Low Earth Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal) is a technology demonstration payload hosted at the ISS to demonstrate how missions in low Earth orbit can benefit from laser communications.

Managed by NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program, ILLUMA-T is completing NASA’s first bi-directional, end-to-end laser communications relay by working with the agency’s LCRD (Laser Communications Relay Demonstration). LCRD launched in December 2021 and is currently demonstrating the benefits of laser communications from geosynchronous orbit by transmitting data between two ground stations on Earth in a series of experiments.

ILLUMA-T’s optical module is comprised of a telescope and two-axis gimbal which allows pointing and tracking of LCRD in geosynchronous orbit. The optical module is about the size of a microwave and the payload itself is comparable to a standard refrigerator.

ILLUMA-T will relay data from the space station to LCRD at 1.2 gigabits-per-second, then LCRD will send the data down to optical ground stations in California or Hawaii. Once the data reaches these ground stations, it will be sent to the LCRD Mission Operations Center located at NASA’s White Sands Complex in Las Cruces, New Mexico. After this, the data will be sent to the ILLUMA-T ground operations teams at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. There, engineers will determine if the data sent through this end-to-end relay process is accurate and of high-quality.

Nation: USA
Type / Application: Communications
Operator: NASA
Contractors: NASA
Configuration: Payload mounted on ISS
Propulsion: None
Power: via ISS
Lifetime: 2 years
Orbit: 400 km × 400 km, 51.6° (typical)
Satellite COSPAR Date LS Launch Vehicle Remarks
ILLUMA-T N/A 10.11.2023 CCK LC-39A Falcon-9 v1.2 (Block 5) with Dragon CRS-29, AWE, BEAK, Clark-sat 1
Further Explorer Missions of Opportunity (MoO) and International Missions (Int):

Missions of Opportunity: International Missions: Explorer Program

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