NASA's new record: sending a message 226 million kilometers from Earth

An artist's concept illustration depicting NASA's Psyche mission spacecraft near the mission target, the metallic asteroid Psyche. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University via AP)

While on its way to its primary target, the asteroid Psyche, The probe a pot The namesake is Test A A new way to communicate With the ground: laser.

The US Space Agency reported this week that it had managed to do so The record of receiving a message 226 million kilometers from our planet, A way to revolutionize space communications because it can reach farther and faster than radio waves.

Unlike its predecessors, which are furtherLike Voyager 1 and 2Juno et al., The soul is The first ship equipped with Laser transmitter and receiveran optical communications system called Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) or Deep space optical communications system. All this in addition to the traditional radio antenna.

A laser beam is sent to the Psyche probe from a ground-based telescope (NASA)

In general, information is sent through radio wavesBecause it is the traditional way. For example, the messages sent by the probe Voyager-1which is currently more than 24,000 million kilometers, and it takes 22.5 hours to reach And many others to leave Earth.

Scientists have said many times that something faster is needed, especially when considering the future of manned missions to distant worlds, so they are exploring ways to send a message via laser.

DSOC can transmit data much faster than an RF antenna using a near-infrared laser. This does not mean that the laser travels faster (Light always moves at 300,000 kilometers per second), But it has a bandwidth between 10 and 100 times greaterSo You can send and receive more data in less time.

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In addition to visiting an asteroid, the Psyche probe has other secondary missions that are very relevant to the future. One of them is to test the DSOC technology. In November last year, NASA was able to send an infrared message while the spacecraft was in place 16 million kilometers awaywhich was a record.

SpaceX launches the Psyche spacecraft on Friday, October 13, 2023, from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

That message only contains information about the ship's location. However, the US space agency outdid itself in its next experiment. Specifically, what it did was send a 15-second high-resolution video to Earth when Psyche was already 30 million kilometers away. Most surprising of all is the content: Cat playing with laser pointer.

On April 8, 2024, the Psyche probe was already there 226 million kilometers from EarthThat is, outside the orbit of Mars and at a distance equivalent to 1.5 times that which separates our planet from the sun, while there are still more than 5 years of travel until the encounter with the asteroid in question.

At that point, NASA decided to go one step further And transmit 10 minutes of data to our planet, it has been confirmed Meera Srinivasan Project Operations Manager at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). “This is a very important milestone for the project, because it shows how optical communications can interact with the spacecraft's radio frequency communications system,” Srinivasan said.

Psyche has become famous for the materials it contains. In total, it is estimated that it will be worth $10 trillion (Southwest Research Institute)

In addition, he stressed that the experience is a big step for… Enabling the transfer of complex scientific informationHigh definition photos and videos. This will be key when it comes time to send humans to Mars.

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Task-specific communications a pot In deep space it is operated by the Deep Space Network, a network of antennas in three locations around the world that primarily uses radio. but Laser communications can provide 10 to 100 times greater bandwidth. Therefore, NASA wants to try using this technology in situations such as transferring scientific data.

The DSOC trial will continue for another two years. Primarily using test data, but potentially sending data from the Psyche spacecraft. The ship is also equipped with conventional radio communications equipment, so this will be a purely functional test.

“Optical communication is a boon for scientists and researchers who always want more from their space missions, and will enable human exploration of deep space. More data means more,” said Jason Mitchell, director of the Advanced Communications and Navigation Technologies Division in NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program. Of discoveries.

Competing with the large antennas of NASA's Deep Space Network, near-infrared message speeds reached 25 Mbps.

Normally, information, both on Earth and off Earth, is transmitted via… radio waves. Information, of any kind, is converted into an electrical signal through a adapter That signal is then converted into radio waves, capable of traveling in all directions through space without the need for cables. This has allowed communication with space for decades, but it has also faced some obstacles.

Lasers use mid-frequency infrared radiation, with wavelengths low enough to carry a lot of information at once. This is because data can be loaded into all wave oscillations. If its length is low, there will be more oscillations in the same space and more information can be loaded.

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Furthermore, since the photon beam is directed at a specific point, information is not lost in all directions and can be transmitted faster. Specifically, a message is expected to be sent via a laser Between 10 and 100 times faster than radio waves.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will test the system again in June, when the distance between Earth and the Sun will be 2.5 times (NASA).

The main goal of the Psyche probe, which NASA launched into space on October 13, 2023, is to study… The asteroid that gave it its name It revolves around the sun in a Location between Mars and Jupiter.

This body It is famous for the substances it contains. In total, it is estimated that its value will be equivalent to $10 trillion, that is, higher than the value of the current global economy as a whole.

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