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OPALS payload

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OPALS (Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science) is an optical communication in outer space experiment developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the International Space Station.

It is testing the potential for using an optical laser to transmit data, at much higher rates than traditional space-based RF communications, to Earth from space. It was launched to the orbital station aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on 18 April 2014, as part of the unpressurized payload cargo of the SpaceX CRS-3 Dragon spacecraft.

The mission has been considered a success as of December 2014. There were two major accomplishments:

  • A massive speed increase taking 3.5 seconds to download a video that traditionally would have taken 10 minutes.
  • Ability to re-acquire tracking after signal was lost due to cloud cover.

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