Streaming HD video from across the solar system may soon become a reality, as NASA has approved a trial run of a laser-based communications system that's like "moving FiOS to space." The Laser Communications Relay Demonstration takes the same principle as Verizon's fiber optic internet service — encoding digital data and transmitting it via pulses of light — but skips the fiber, using a laser beamed through space instead. A move to optical would provide a substantial speed gain, enabling data transfer from Mars at a rate of up to 100 Mbps — a big boost from the 6 Mbps that traditional radio technology currently delivers.
To demonstrate the system, NASA will beam a stream of test data to a specially-equipped communications satellite, which will relay the data back to two base stations on Earth. The satellite will also be equipped for communicating with future spacecraft on deep-space missions as well as those in low-Earth orbit. Scheduled for 2016, the trial is expected to last two to three years.