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Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter links Moon and Earth at 100 Mbps

In a recent article, The Ultimate Long Distance Communications, NASA describes how a K-band (17.0 to 21.2 GHz) traveling wave tube amplifier (TWTA) from L-3 communications is allowing the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to transmit up to 461 gigabytes of data per day, about 100 Mbps.

L-3 built the amplifier under the supervision of NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. Glenn project manager Todd Petersen commented, "We're sending back more data than ever, faster, and it's nearly real time." Rainee Simons, chief of Glenn's Electron and Optoelectronic Device Branch, said engineers had to redesign the internal circuitry of the amplifier. Simons explained, "In order to provide the power and frequency needed to send communications from the vicinity of the moon, it had to be custom designed and handmade."

NASA sees the technology having uses on communications satellites to allow better tracking, monitoring and control of transoceanic flights and ships traveling beyond the reach of radar. It also has the potential to allow fast, real-time data transfer from future Earth-orbiting satellites that are used to track migratory animals, endangered species, icebergs, icebergs, volcanic eruptions and forest fires as well as monitor climate change and study meteorology.

Rainee Simons added, "This technology has the potential to create a better world."

NASA's web site has more information on the LRO spacecraft. See the L-3 Space TWTs, LTWTAs and EPCs product line page for information on L-3's standard offerings for space communications.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.