NASA's Psyche Spacecraft Fires Laser Beam From 16 Million Kilometres Away In 'Tremendous Achievement'

NASA's Psyche Spacecraft Fires Laser Beam From 16 Million Kilometres Away In 'Tremendous Achievement'

According to NASA, the distance is 40 times greater than between the Moon and Earth, making it the longest demonstration of optical communications.

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Wednesday, November 22, 2023, 06:32 PM IST
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Representative Image | Freepik

Earth has received laser-beamed communication from a distance of 16 million kilometres, or 10 million miles. NASA recently completed a test aboard the Psyche spacecraft, launched into space to examine an asteroid. The spacecraft experiment returned a near-infrared laser with test data from nearly 16 million miles away. According to NASA, the distance is 40 times greater than between the Moon and Earth, making it the longest demonstration of optical communications.

Experiment witness 'first light' on November 14

The spacecraft used the space agency's first demonstration of optical communications beyond the Earth-Moon system called Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC). As Psyche proceeds to the central asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, DSOC will be used to deliver high-bandwidth test data to our planet.

The transceiver is a high-tech machine that has the ability to send and receive near-infrared signals. The test run witnessed its 'first light' in the early hours of November 14 when Psyche's laser transmitter locked onto NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's (JPL) powerful uplink laser beacon at its Table Mountain Observatory. This enabled the DSOC's transceiver to direct its downlink laser at the Hale Telescope at Caltech's Palomar Observatory, which is located 130 km away. The laser-beamed message reached 16 million kilometres, or 40 times the distance between Earth and the Moon.

Scientists claim it's a significant scientific achievement

According to Trudy Kortes, NASA's director of Technology Demonstrations, this was a huge scientific accomplishment. In her statement, she said, "Achieving first light is one of the many important DSOC milestones in the upcoming months, which will open the door to higher-data-rate connections that can transmit scientific data, high-definition imagery, and streaming video in support of humanity's next giant leap, sending humans to Mars."

Abi Biswas, project technologist for DSOC at JPL, said, "Receiving first light is a tremendous achievement. The deep space laser photons from DSOC's flight transceiver aboard Psyche were successfully detected by ground equipment. We could also convey data, implying that we may interchange 'bits of light' from and to deep space."

Optical communications have previously been used to deliver signals from Earth's orbit. However, this was the furthest distance travelled by laser beams. The greater the distance travelled via optical communications, the more difficult it becomes due to the increased precision required, the reason being this success is major in space exploration communication.

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