To help push things along, ESA's proposed Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM) will carry out a record-setting demonstration of space laser communications across a distance of 75 million kilometers (46 million mi) while orbiting a binary asteroid.
One of the major bottlenecks in deep space exploration is the primitive nature of the communications systems. Presently, all deep space missions use radio systems developed in 1960s that are incapable of handling the huge distances and massive amounts of data that current spacecraft must contend with. The result is that missions like New Horizons, which is now speeding beyond the orbit of Pluto, will take 16 months to transmit back data collected during its very brief flyby of the dwarf planet.
One of the most promising ways of solving this problem is to replace or augment radio links with lasers. These have inherent advantages over radio, not the least of which is that they have a much greater bandwidth capacity and their ability to produce a narrow, coherent beam means that they use less power over longer distances – a prime concern for spacecraft that often have to make do with power levels usually associated with incandescent bulbs.