NASA mission achieves most distant demo of laser communications across space
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An innovative experiment flying aboard NASA’s Psyche mission just hit its first major milestone by successfully carrying out the most distant demonstration of laser communications. The tech demo could one day help NASA missions probe deeper into space and uncover more discoveries about the origin of the universe.
Launched in mid-October, Psyche is currently en route to catch humanity’s first glimpse of a metal asteroid between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The spacecraft will spend the next six years traveling about 2.2 billion miles (3.6 billion kilometers) to reach its namesake, located in the outer part of the main asteroid belt.
Along for the ride is the Deep Space Optical Communications technology demonstration, or DSOC, which is carrying out a mission of its own during the first two years of the journey.
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.