Dr. Jim Green, Director, NASA Planetary Science Division, mentioned during his "The Martian": Science Fiction & Science Fact talk for the 18th Annual International Mars Society Convention (you can watch it live here while it lasts, August 13-16, 2015, and they will be posted on The Mars Society YouTube channel later), that future Mars orbiters will include laser communications capability.

This is kind of old as well as new information to me at the same time;

Old, because there's already been plans since the early noughties to include Mars Laser Communication Demonstration (MLCD) on then planned Mars Telecommunications Orbiter, with a planned launch date in 2009, but was subsequently canceled in 2005. New, because to my knowledge, so far none of the latter (since early plans for MLCD) launched Mars orbiters that are now already orbiting the red planet include any such laser communications hardware. Not the MRO, not MAVEN, and neither do ESA's Mars Express or ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission. Neither do I know of any specific mission that will include it.

NASA did however test such technology closer to home, using LADEE with Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) from roughly one Lunar distance orbiting the Moon, and also Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) on the ISS from Low Earth Orbit. So to my question(s):

Which specific future Mars orbiters was Dr. Jim Green alluding to when mentioning plans to include laser communications payloads on them? How far have these plans progressed so far and is there any technical documentation available?

Also, if it's possible to also answer this without making it too broad (otherwise I'll post this as a new question), how did LLCD and OPALS demonstrators help mature the technology that will be included on future Mars orbiters?


1 Answer 1


The Mars 2022 orbiter is expected to have this capacity. From the Mars Telecommunications Orbiter wiki page, one can see the entire history, including the latest plans. See also SpaceFlightNow. This mission will be similar to MRO, in that it has a science mission, but doubles as a high speed data relay, although it will be a higher speed relay than MRO, as it will have laser communications. I don't believe it has an official name yet, but I'm sure there will be one as it gets to be closer to launch.

  • $\begingroup$ I've just added a link to this answer here. I wonder if there is any new information or changes over the last ~3 years? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 18, 2018 at 14:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @uhoh looks like it's on hold now. The main problem is Mars Sample Return mission steps 2 and 3 (liftoff and transfer to Earth) cost at least 4 billions (according to estimates by Planetary Decadal Survey 2011). So NASA considers "lean MSR architecture" spacenews.com/…. It is planned to use existing MRO and not spend money for the new orbiter. $\endgroup$
    – Heopps
    Aug 17, 2018 at 14:18

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