5 Things to Know About NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications

Slated to launch on Oct. 12 with the Psyche mission, DSOC will display applied sciences enabling the company to transmit larger knowledge charges from deep area.

NASA’s pioneering Deep House Optical Communications (DSOC) experiment would be the first demonstration of laser, or optical, communications from as far-off as Mars. Launching with NASA’s Psyche mission to a metal-rich asteroid of the identical title on Thursday, Oct. 12, DSOC will check key applied sciences designed to allow future missions to transmit denser science knowledge and even stream video from the Crimson Planet.

Listed here are 5 issues to learn about this cutting-edge know-how demonstration:

1. DSOC is the primary time NASA will check how lasers may improve knowledge transmission from deep area.

Till now, NASA has used solely radio waves to speak with missions that journey past the Moon. Very similar to fiber optics changing previous phone traces on Earth as demand for knowledge grows, going from radio communications to optical communications will enable elevated knowledge charges all through the photo voltaic system, with 10 to 100 occasions the capability of state-of-the-art methods presently utilized by spacecraft. It will higher allow future human and robotic exploration missions, together with supporting higher-resolution science devices.

Study extra about how DSOC will likely be used to check high-bandwidth knowledge transmission past the Moon for the primary time – and the way it may rework deep area exploration. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

2. The tech demo entails tools each in area and on Earth.

The DSOC flight laser transceiver is an experiment connected to NASA’s Psyche spacecraft, however Psyche depends on conventional radio communications for mission operations. The laser transceiver options each a near-infrared laser transmitter to ship high-rate knowledge to Earth and a delicate photon-counting digicam to obtain a laser beam despatched from Earth. However the transceiver is only one a part of the know-how demonstration.

There is no such thing as a devoted infrastructure on Earth for deep area optical communications, so for the needs of DSOC, two floor telescopes have been up to date to speak with the flight laser transceiver. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California will host the operations group, and a high-power near-infrared laser transmitter has been built-in with the Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory at JPL’s Desk Mountain facility close to Wrightwood, California. The transmitter will ship a modulated laser sign to DSOC’s flight transceiver and function a beacon, or pointing reference, in order that the returned laser beam will be precisely aimed again to Earth.

Information despatched from the flight transceiver will likely be collected by the 200-inch (5.1-meter) Hale Telescope at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California, which has been outfitted with a particular superconducting high-efficiency detector array.

3. DSOC will encounter distinctive challenges.

DSOC is meant to display high-rate transmission of knowledge of distances as much as 240 million miles (390 million kilometers) – greater than twice the space between the Solar and Earth – through the first two years of Psyche’s six-year journey to the asteroid belt.  

The farther Psyche travels from our planet, the fainter the laser photon sign will grow to be, making it more and more difficult to decode the info. As an extra problem, the photons will take longer to succeed in their vacation spot, making a lag of over 20 minutes on the tech demo’s farthest distance. As a result of the positions of Earth and the spacecraft will likely be consistently altering because the photons journey, the DSOC floor and flight methods might want to compensate, pointing to the place the bottom receiver (at Palomar) and flight transceiver (on Psyche) will likely be when the photons arrive.

4. Reducing-edge applied sciences will work collectively to ensure the lasers are heading in the right direction and high-bandwidth knowledge is acquired from deep area.

The flight laser transceiver and ground-based laser transmitter might want to level with nice precision. Reaching their targets will likely be akin to hitting a dime from a mile away whereas the dime is transferring. So the transceiver must be remoted from the spacecraft vibrations, which might in any other case nudge the laser beam off beam. Initially, Psyche will purpose the flight transceiver within the course of Earth whereas autonomous methods on the flight transceiver assisted by the Desk Mountain uplink beacon laser will management the pointing of the downlink laser sign to Palomar Observatory.

Built-in onto the Hale Telescope is a cryogenically cooled superconducting nanowire photon-counting array receiver, developed by JPL. The instrument is provided with high-speed electronics for recording the time of arrival of single photons in order that the sign will be decoded. The DSOC group even developed new signal-processing methods to squeeze info out of the weak laser alerts that can have been transmitted over tens to lots of of hundreds of thousands of miles.

5. That is NASA’s newest optical communications venture.

In 2013, NASA’s Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration examined record-breaking uplink and downlink knowledge charges between Earth and the Moon. In 2021, NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration launched to check high-bandwidth optical communications relay capabilities from geostationary orbit in order that spacecraft don’t require a direct line of sight with Earth to speak. And final 12 months, NASA’s TeraByte InfraRed Supply system downlinked the highest-ever knowledge charge from a satellite tv for pc in low-Earth orbit to a ground-based receiver.

DSOC is taking optical communications into deep area, paving the best way for high-bandwidth communications past the Moon and 1,000 occasions farther than any optical communications check to this point. If it succeeds, the know-how may result in high-data charge communications with streaming, high-definition imagery that can assist help humanity’s subsequent large leap: when NASA sends astronauts to Mars.

Extra Concerning the Mission

DSOC is the newest in a collection of optical communication demonstrations funded by NASA’s Expertise Demonstration Missions (TDM) program and the company’s House Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages DSOC for TDM inside NASA’s House Expertise Mission Directorate and SCaN throughout the company’s House Operations Mission Directorate.

The Psyche mission is led by Arizona State College. JPL is liable for the mission’s general administration, system engineering, integration and check, and mission operations. Psyche is the 14th mission chosen as a part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by the company’s Marshall House Flight Heart in Huntsville, Alabama. NASA’s Launch Providers Program, based mostly on the company’s Kennedy House Heart, is managing the launch service. Maxar Applied sciences in Palo Alto, California, supplied the high-power photo voltaic electrical propulsion spacecraft chassis.

For extra details about DSOC, go to: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/dsoc

Information Media Contacts

Ian J. O’Neill
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-2649
ian.j.oneill@jpl.nasa.gov

Alise Fisher
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-358-2546
alise.m.fisher@nasa.gov

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