‘First light’: NASA gets laser-beamed message from 10 million miles away

 ‘First light’: NASA gets laser-beamed message from 10 million miles away


An revolutionary test flying aboard NASA’s Psyche undertaking just hit its first principal milestone by way of correctly carrying out the maximum distant demonstration of laser communications. The tech demo should in the future help NASA missions probe deeper into space and find greater discoveries about the origin of the universe.

launched in mid-October, Psyche is currently en path to trap humanity’s first glimpse of a metallic asteroid between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The spacecraft will spend the subsequent six years visiting about 2.2 billion miles (3.6 billion kilometers) to reach its namesake, positioned inside the outer a part of the primary asteroid belt.

The tech demo was designed to be the US space agency’s most distant experiment of high-bandwidth laser communications, testing the sending and receiving of data to and from Earth using an invisible near-infrared laser. The laser can send data at 10 to 100 times the speed of traditional radio wave systems NASA uses on other missions. If wholly successful over the next couple of years, this experiment could be the future basis of technology that is used to communicate with humans exploring Mars.

And DSOC recently achieved what engineers called “first light,” the feat of successfully sending and receiving its first data.

The experiment beamed a laser encoded with data from far beyond the moon for the first time. The test data was sent from nearly 10 million miles (16 million kilometers) away and reached the Hale Telescope at the California Institute of Technology’s Palomar Observatory in Pasadena, California.

the gap among DSOC and Hale become approximately 40 instances farther than the moon is from Earth.

“attaining first mild is one in every of many essential DSOC milestones within the coming months, paving the manner in the direction of better-facts-price communications able to sending scientific records, high-definition imagery, and streaming video in support of humanity’s subsequent giant bounce: sending people to Mars,” stated Trudy Kortes, director of technology demonstrations for the space generation assignment Directorate at NASA, in a assertion.

Sending lasers throughout area

First light, which took place on November 14, befell as the flight laser transceiver device on Psyche obtained a laser beacon sent from the Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s desk Mountain Facility near Wrightwood, California.

The preliminary beacon received by Psyche’s transceiver helped the tool aim its laser to ship data back to the Hale Telescope, which is placed approximately 100 miles (a hundred and sixty kilometers) south of table Mountain.

“(The November 14) take a look at was the primary to fully incorporate the floor belongings and flight transceiver, requiring the DSOC and Psyche operations teams to work in tandem,” said Meera Srinivasan, operations lead for DSOC at JPL, located in Pasadena, California, in a assertion. “It was an impressive task, and we have plenty extra paintings to do, but for a quick time, we were able to transmit, acquire, and decode a few information.”

It’s not the first time laser communications had been tested in area. the first take a look at of two-way laser communique came about in December 2021 whilst NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration released and went into orbit approximately 22,000 miles (35,406 kilometers) from Earth.

since then, experiments have despatched optical communications from low-Earth orbit and to the moon. And the Artemis II spacecraft will use laser communications to go back excessive-definition video of a crewed journey across the moon. but DSOC marks the primary time laser communications had been sent across deep space, which calls for incredibly precise purpose and pointing over hundreds of thousands of miles.

The preliminary test of the tech demo’s abilties will permit the crew to paintings on refining the structures used within the laser’s pointing accuracy. as soon as the team has checked that box, DSOC will be ready to send and get hold of information to the Hale Telescope as the spacecraft travels further from Earth.

Future challenges

While DSOC won’t actually send scientific data collected by the Psyche spacecraft because it’s an experiment, the laser will be used to send bits of test data encoded in the laser’s photons, or quantum light particles.

Detector arrays on Earth can pick up the signal from Psyche and extract the data from the photons. This kind of optical communication could change the way NASA sends and receives data from its missions across deep space.

“Optical communication is a boon for scientists and researchers who always want more from their space missions, and will enable human exploration of deep space,” said Dr. Jason Mitchell, director of the Advanced Communications and Navigation Technologies Division within NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation program, in a statement. “More data means more discoveries.”

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