NASA has just recently announced that they have communicated bidirectionally from a an earthbound space station with a spacecraft using a laser. More amazingly the laser communication was 25 million miles away! As opposed to radio waves, lasers can pack a lot more data into a signal and subsequently allow much more data to be transmitted.
If you think Skype has latency now, wait till your grandkids are using it on one of Jupiter’s moons!
A major challenge with laser communications in space is keeping transmitter and receiver locked onto each other. This is like trying to aim the beam of a very strong laser pointer, akin to the type used in a conference room, at a target millions of miles away.
Radio waves radiate outwards from a transmitter in spherical ripples rather than pencil-thin beams like lasers. So the receiver and transmitter in a laser-based communication system have to be pointed very precisely.
The record-setting effort is described in the Jan. 6 issue of the journal Science. Story.
I sense a new Verizon Wireless “Can you hear me now” commercial being developed as a result of this story.