The Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) instrument, which was aboard NASA‘s Psyche mission, made the experiment possible.
In a groundbreaking achievement, Earth has successfully received laser-beam communication from a distance of 16 million kilometers, or 10 million miles. That’s the longest demonstration of optical communications, according to NASA, forty times farther than the Earth-moon distance.
The Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) instrument, which was aboard NASA’s Psyche mission, made the experiment possible. It successfully launched from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on October 13 and has since returned to Earth with a laser-beamed message.On November 14, Psyche launched a communication link with the Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory in California. During the test, it took roughly 50 seconds for the near-infrared photons from DSOC to reach Earth from Psyche.
Interestingly, the ‘first light’ is the successful creation of the communications link.
As stated by NASA Headquarters’ Director of Technology Demonstrations, Trudy Kortes, “achieving first light is one of many critical DSOC milestones in the coming months, clearing the path for higher-data-rate connections that can transmit streaming, high-definition pictures, and scientific data.”
Project technologist Abi Biswas of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said, “Getting the first light is a huge accomplishment.” The deep-space laser beams from DSOC’s flight transmitter aboard Psyche were successfully detected by ground equipment. Additionally, we could transmit data, which would mean that we could exchange “bits of light” with deep space.
The primary objective of the Psyche mission is to explore and gather additional data about the unique metallic asteroid Psyche, which will aid in our comprehension of the evolution of planet formation and core dynamics. Over the course of the two-year experiment, laser signals will be sent and received from increasingly far-off places as it moves towards its target.The spacecraft is expected to enter orbit in 2029 after reaching the asteroid.
NASA administrator Bill Nelson stated in a statement that “the Psyche mission could provide humanity with new information about planet formation while testing technology that can be used on future NASA missions.Like the asteroid Autumn, NASA is unwavering in its quest to study the unknown and spur worldwide exploration with ground-breaking discoveries.
Currently, radio signals transmitted and received by massive antennas on Earth are used to communicate with spacecraft. They do have restricted bandwidth, though. NASA hopes to use this experiment to eventually replace radio waves with light, or lasers, in order to transfer data between spacecraft and the Earth. According to the space agency, the technology can beam information 10–100 times faster than existing space communications equipment.
When this goal is met, NASA will be able to support robotic and human missions as well as send more sophisticated instruments into deep space for research.