And space exploration is largely about the data. Rovers and astronauts are expected to take measurements, shoot images and video of distant planets and asteroids. However, if they can't get that data back to scientists on Earth, it's scientifically limiting the entire mission.
"Right now, there's often a bottleneck with the radio system," said Cornwell. "Scientists have to pick and choose which images and data they want because it's not optimal to send it all back. With laser systems, they shouldn't have to choose. And as NASA goes further and further out in space, we'd like to... send more of that data back."
He added that the large pipe that laser communications give them will become increasingly important as explorations travel farther from Earth.
Cornwell said that some commercial operations are looking into testing laser communications in an effort to create an Earth-orbiting network of satellites that would speed data transmissions using lasers.
"We're really in the formulation phase," he said.
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