Nasa's psyche spacecraft sets new record in space communications by transmitting data from over 140 million miles

NEW DELHI: Nasa’s Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) technology demonstration, aboard the Psyche spacecraft, successfully transmitted a copy of engineering data from a distance of over 140 million miles (226 million kilometers), which is 1½ times the distance between Earth and the Sun, after interfacing with Psyche’s radio frequency transmitter.Although the spacecraft doesn’t rely on optical communications for its primary data transmission, the technology has set a new record in space communications, according to Nasa.
This achievement offers a glimpse into the potential of optical communications for future spacecraft, enabling the transmission of complex scientific data, high-definition imagery, and video at higher data rates with setting a pathway to humanity’s next giant leap: sending humans to Mars. “We downlinked about 10 minutes of duplicated spacecraft data during a pass on April 8,” said Meera Srinivasan, the project’s operations lead at Nasa‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “Until then, we’d been sending test and diagnostic data in our downlinks from Psyche. This represents a significant milestone for the project by showing how optical communications can interface with a spacecraft’s radio frequency comms system.”
The DSOC technology demonstration has shown that it can transmit test data at a maximum rate of 267 megabits per second (Mbps) from the flight laser transceiver’s near-infrared downlink laser, which is comparable to broadband internet download speeds. This was achieved on Dec. 11, 2023, when the experiment beamed a 15-second ultra-high-definition video to Earth from 19 million miles away (31 million kilometers, or about 80 times the Earth-Moon distance). As the spacecraft is now more than seven times farther away, the data transmission rate is reduced, as expected. During the April 8 test, the spacecraft transmitted test data at a maximum rate of 25 Mbps, which still surpasses the project’s goal of proving at least 1 Mbps was possible at that distance.
The optical communications demo has also proven that the transceiver can receive data from the high-power uplink laser at JPL’s Table Mountain facility and send data back to Earth on the same night. This “turnaround experiment” relayed test data and digital pet photographs to Psyche and back again, covering a round trip of up to 280 million miles (450 million kilometers). The project team has learned a great deal about the system’s capabilities and limitations, such as the need for relatively clear skies to transmit high-bandwidth data.
The Psyche mission, led by Arizona State University, is the 14th mission selected as part of Nasa’s Discovery Program. JPL is responsible for the mission’s overall management, system engineering, integration and test, and mission operations.

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