‘First light’ beyond Moon: NASA sets record in interplanetary laser communication – Times of India


In a pioneering step toward transforming interplanetary communication, NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) experiment, aboard the Psyche spacecraft, has accomplished a groundbreaking “first light” moment. The DSOC experiment, which has the potential to revolutionize spacecraft communication, successfully transmitted data via laser to and from beyond the moon for the first time, marking a significant milestone in deep space communication.
The achievement was realized as the near-infrared laser, encoded with test data, traversed nearly 16 million kilometers, a distance approximately 40 times farther than the Earth-Moon separation, to reach the Hale Telescope at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California.This accomplishment sets a new record for the farthest-ever demonstration of optical communications, showcasing the capabilities of DSOC.
The DSOC technology demonstration, designed to send high-bandwidth test data to Earth during its two-year mission, began its journey as Psyche travels toward the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The “first light” milestone occurred in the early hours of November 14 when the flight laser transceiver, a cutting-edge instrument aboard Psyche, locked onto a powerful uplink laser beacon transmitted from the Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory at JPL’s Table Mountain Facility near Wrightwood, California.
“Achieving first light is one of many critical DSOC milestones in the coming months, paving the way toward higher-data-rate communications capable of sending scientific information, high-definition imagery, and streaming video in support of humanity’s next giant leap: sending humans to Mars,” stated Trudy Kortes, director of Technology Demonstrations at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
During the test, the uplink beacon aided the transceiver in aiming its downlink laser back to Palomar, while automated systems on the transceiver and ground stations fine-tuned its pointing. The simultaneous transmission of test data via the uplink and downlink lasers, known as “closing the link,” marked a primary objective of the experiment. It’s worth noting that while the technology demonstration isn’t transmitting Psyche mission data, close collaboration with the Psyche mission-support team ensures that DSOC operations align seamlessly with the spacecraft’s objectives.
“Tuesday morning’s test was the first to fully incorporate the ground assets and flight transceiver, requiring the DSOC and Psyche operations teams to work in tandem,” highlighted Meera Srinivasan, operations lead for DSOC at JPL. “It was a formidable challenge, and we have a lot more work to do, but for a short time, we were able to transmit, receive, and decode some data.”
(with inputs from IANS)

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