The European Space Agency (ESA) has partnered with AIRBUS Defense and Space to send data between satellites using lasers. This data transmission was a proof-of-concept in what they are calling the “SpaceDataHighway”. This is a significant undertaking as most satellites are good at a number of jobs, but lack the stationary orbit to send data to earth. A satellite in orbit must wait till it is in range of a ground station in order to send information which causes quite the delay. Some satellites like the Alphasat are in a geostationary orbit and are always connected to their ground stations. By using a laser to send data from one satellite to a geostationary one transmission time can be cut significantly, which is handy when near-real-time data is needed.
During the ESA and AIRBUS test speeds of 0.6 Gigabits per second of a possible 1.8 Gigabits per second over 45,000km.
This technology can be used for a number of tasks. One application might be to help ground crews safely save lives during a disaster, and we have lasers to thank for their part.