As NASA looks more towards exploring our solar system (and beyond) and sending astronauts to Mars, they’re also rethinking the way we will communicate with spacecraft, satellites, and astronauts.
Currently, NASA uses radio-frequency (RF) signals to communicate with space. These radio waves are a reliable, tested technology, but they have their downsides for deep space. First, signals degrade en route to the Earth; by the time we receive them, the quality has eroded. Second, they require giant radio receivers on the ground to receive these transmissions. Third, the quality of the signal severely affects data transfer speeds and bandwith.
This is why NASA is studying new communication technology, and it may have found it with the Laser Communication Relay Demonstration (LCRD). This new technology, still in the testing phases, uses lasers for communication. Currently radio transmissions only provide a limited bandwith for spacecraft to send data, which is why they must do so in very small packets. LCRD technology offers the equivalent of high speed Internet in space.