Bryan Robinson and the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration team receive NASA Honor Awards

Awards recognize the development of a system that achieved unsurpassed high-volume, high-speed data transmittal between a lunar-orbiting satellite and Earth

Dr. Bryan S. Robinson, assistant leader of the Optical Communications Technology Group at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, received a 2014 Exceptional Technology Achievement Medal, which is awarded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the development or transfer of technology supporting a NASA mission. He was recognized "for superior achievement in the development and flight of the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration," a program for which he served as the lead systems engineer.

The entire Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) team from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, which directed the LLCD program, and Lincoln Laboratory, which developed the space and ground terminals for the demonstration, was honored with a NASA Group Achievement Award for "successful teamwork on the LLCD project and the achievement of demonstrating optical communications from the Moon at record-breaking data rates." The two awards were presented at a ceremony held on 26 August at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Bryan Robinson accepts NASA Honor AwardDr. Bryan Robinson, right, accepts the commemorative plaque for his 2014 NASA Exceptional Technology Achievement Medal from Christopher Scolese, director of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. The Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) team was also recognized with a Group Achievement Award presented at the ceremony.

Under the LLCD program, Lincoln Laboratory developed an optical system that could achieve high-speed data transmission to and from a lunar-orbiting satellite. In October 2013, the LLCD space terminal, flying aboard NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft, used a pulsed laser beam to transmit data down to a ground terminal in New Mexico at a record-breaking speed of 622 megabits per second. The LLCD system also demonstrated a data upload speed 5000 times faster than any radio system ever flown to the Moon. The LLCD's successful relay of varying types of data (imagery, video, text) over such a long distance (239,000 miles) at very high data rates will significantly influence the objectives and designs for future scientific space missions.

"It is certainly a great and unexpected honor to receive this recognition from NASA. But, the real privilege has been the opportunity to participate in a project like LLCD," says Robinson. "I was able to work on an extremely interesting and challenging problem—designing, building and operating a first-of-a-kind laser communication system for NASA. And, I was part of an amazing team that had exceptional engineering talent on all fronts—optical, mechanical, electrical, thermal, software, and systems—and that was completely devoted to the success of the project. Together, we accomplished something really significant: we sent enormous amounts of data back from the Moon at unprecedented rates using a half-watt laser!"

According to Dr. Don Cornwell, the LLCD mission manager at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Robinson was instrumental in many phases of the system's development: taking on a lead role in the concept and design of the system; managing and documenting system requirements; and leading system testing. Currently, Robinson is working to transition the technology developed for LLCD to other NASA applications.

"Dr. Robinson has been much more than the nexus of all things technical on LLCD; he has been the primary driving force behind its successful delivery and flight. Specifically, he has led all of the critical system performance testing during both I&T [integration and testing] and during flight operations, which resulted in his presence at almost all times when work was in progress," says Cornwell. "Bryan’s drive and dedication over this critical [nine-month] period inspired the entire LLCD team, who followed his lead and under his guidance solved critical technical problems that allowed LLCD and NASA to meet its LADEE delivery dates."

The LLCD system was also honored with a 2014 R&D 100 Award, which recognizes technical developments that demonstrate significant innovation and potential impact on technology advancement. Annually, R&D Magazine selects 100 award recipients from hundreds of nominations submitted from around the world.

Posted September 2014

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