NASA receives laser message from 10 million miles away in outer space

Written by Henrik Rothen

Nov.24 - 2023 11:07 AM CET

Photo: Wikipedia Commons
Photo: Wikipedia Commons
NASA receives laser message from 10 million miles away in outer space.

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NASA's Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) experiment recently marked a significant milestone in space communication technology by successfully transmitting a message via laser over a distance of almost 16 million kilometers, or 10 million miles.

According to ScienceAlert, this breakthrough, approximately 40 times the distance from Earth to the Moon, represents the first time optical communications have been sent across such a vast expanse, offering a substantial upgrade from traditional radio wave-based space communication​​.

The DSOC experiment's achievement, termed 'first light,' signals a pivotal advancement towards higher-data-rate communications. This technology is crucial for transmitting scientific information, high-definition imagery, and streaming video, vital for future deep space exploration and potentially expanding the World Wide Web across the galaxy.

As Trudy Kortes, director of Technology Demonstrations at NASA Headquarters, notes, this milestone is just one of many in the journey toward enhancing humanity's capacity for space exploration​​.

Optical communication in space, particularly using near-infrared light, presents several advantages over traditional methods. Infrared light can be easily transmitted in laser form, which, while not increasing the speed of light, allows for a more concentrated and efficient beam. This method requires less power than radiowave transmission and is more difficult to intercept, making it a more secure and energy-efficient option for long-distance space communication​​.

The laser transceiver, essential for this communication, is onboard the Psyche spacecraft, currently on a two-year tech demo mission towards the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The spacecraft successfully established contact with the Hale Telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California, demonstrating the feasibility of real-time position adjustment in space communication over vast distances. Psyche's mission includes a fly-by around Mars, providing further opportunities to refine and enhance this innovative near-infrared laser communication method​​.

Meera Srinivasan, DSOC operations lead at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, acknowledges the challenges and complexities of this endeavor.

The encoding of data bits in the photons emitted by the laser requires sophisticated instruments for transmission and interpretation. Despite these challenges, the successful transmission, reception, and decoding of data during the experiment represent a substantial step forward in the field of space communications and its potential applications for future space missions​​.

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