The Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) instrument, which was aboard NASA’s Psyche spacecraft, made the experiment possible.
Earth has successfully received laser-beam communication from a distance of 16 million kilometers, or 10 million miles, in a ground-breaking accomplishment. That’s the longest demonstration of optical communications, according to NASA, forty times farther than Earth-moon distance.
The Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) instrument, which was aboard NASA’s Psyche spacecraft, 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. A communication link was established between the Psyche spacecraft and the Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory in California on November 14. 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 establishment of the communications link.
One of the many crucial DSOC milestones in the upcoming months is the achievement of first light, which will open the door to higher-data-rate communications that will enable the sending of scientific data, high-definition imagery, and streaming video to support humanity’s next great leap, according to NASA Headquarters’ director of Technology Demonstrations Trudy Kortes.
The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s project technologist, Abi Biswas, stated, “Getting the first light is a huge accomplishment. Ground equipment successfully detected the deep space laser photons from DSOC’s flight transceiver aboard Psyche. Additionally, we could transmit data, which would mean that we could exchange “bits of light” with deep space.
The Psyche spacecraft’s main goal is to investigate and learn more about the distinctive metallic asteroid Psyche, which will help us understand 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 toward its destination. After arriving at the asteroid in 2029, the spacecraft is scheduled to enter orbit.
“The Psyche mission could provide humanity new information about planet formation while testing technology that can be used on future NASA missions,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. NASA is steadfast in its mission to explore the uncharted and inspire global exploration via groundbreaking discoveries, much like asteroid Autumn.
Currently, radio signals transmitted and received from massive antennas on Earth are used to communicate with spacecraft. They do have a limited bandwidth, though. NASA’s ultimate goal with this experiment is to replace radio waves with light, or lasers, to transmit data between Earth and spacecraft. According to the space agency, the system can beam information 10–100 times faster than existing space communications equipment.