NASA deep space optical communications: It is scheduled to launch in October On Dec. 12, DSOC will use the Psyche mission to demonstrate technologies that allow the agency to transmit higher data rates from deep space.
NASA’s groundbreaking Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) experiment will demonstrate laser or light communications as far away as Mars for the first time. On Thursday, Oct. 12, during the launch of the metal-rich asteroid of the same name, DSOC will test the key with NASA’s Psyche mission, which is designed to allow future missions to transmit closer science data and even video streams from the Red Planet’s technology. . Here are five things you need to know about this groundbreaking technology demonstration:
- DSOC is NASA’s first test of how lasers can boost data transmission in deep space.
Until now, NASA has only used radio waves to communicate with missions beyond the Moon. Just as fiber optics replaced old telephone lines on Earth as data needs grew, the transition from radio to optical communications will increase data rates throughout the solar system with 10 to 100 times the capacity of the most advanced systems currently used by spacecraft. It will better support future human and robotic exploration missions and support higher-resolution science instruments.
- Technology demonstrations include installations in space and on Earth.
DSOC’s flyable laser transceiver is an experiment attached to NASA’s Psyche spacecraft, but Psyche relies on traditional radio communications for mission operations. The laser transceiver has a near-infrared laser transmitter to send high-speed data to Earth and a sensitive photon-counting camera to capture the laser beam sent from Earth. But the transceiver was only part of the technology demonstration. There is no dedicated deep space optical communications infrastructure on Earth, so for DSOC, two ground-based telescopes have been upgraded to communicate with airborne laser transceivers. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California will host the operational team, and the high-power near-infrared laser transmitter is integrated with the optical communications telescope at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Table Mountain facility near Wrightwood, California. The transmitter will send a modulated laser signal to the DSOC aircraft transceiver and will be used as a beacon or pointing reference so that the returned laser beam can be precisely directed back to Earth.
Data transmitted from the flight transceiver will be collected by the 200-inch (5.1-meter) Hale Telescope at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California, which is equipped with a special array of superconducting high-efficiency detectors.
- DSOC will face unique challenges.
DSOC aims to demonstrate high-speed data transmission over distances of up to 240 million miles (390 million kilometers)—more than twice the distance between the Sun and Earth—in the first two years of Psyche’s six-year journey to the asteroid belt.
The farther Psyche is from our planet, the weaker the laser photon signal becomes, making the data increasingly difficult to decipher. Another challenge is that photons take longer to reach their destination, causing delays of more than 20 minutes at the furthest distances of the technology demonstration. Because the positions of the Earth and spacecraft are constantly changing as the photons travel, the DSOC ground and aircraft systems must compensate to indicate the positions of the ground receiver (at Palomar) and the aircraft transceiver (at Psyche) as the photons travel. arrive.
4.Advanced technologies will work together to enable laser targeting and receive high-bandwidth data from deep space.
Flying laser transceivers and ground-based laser emitters require very precise pointing. Achieving your goal is like hitting a moving dime from a mile away. Therefore, the transceiver must be isolated from the vibrations of the spacecraft, otherwise it will deflect the laser beam from the target. Initially, Psyche will point its flight transceiver toward Earth, and the flight receiver’s autonomous systems, aided by the Table Mountain uplink beacon laser, will direct the downlink laser signal to the Palomar Observatory. The Hale telescope integrates a cryogenically cooled superconducting nanowire photon counting array receiver developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The instrument is equipped with high-speed electronics to record the arrival times of individual photons so that the signal can be decoded. The DSOC team has even developed new signal processing technology to extract information from weak laser signals that will travel tens to hundreds of millions of miles.
- This is NASA’s latest optical communications project.
In 2013, NASA’s Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration tested record uplink and downlink data rates between the Earth and the Moon. In 2021, NASA. launched the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration to test the capabilities of a high-bandwidth optical communications relay in geostationary orbit so that spacecraft would not need a direct line of sight to Earth to communicate. Last year, NASA’s TeraByte infrared transmission system delivered the highest ever data rate from low-Earth orbit satellites to ground receivers. DSOC brings optical communications into deep space, paving the way for high-bandwidth communications beyond the Moon at distances 1,000 times greater than any optical communications test to date.
If successful, the technology could enable high-data-rate, high-resolution image communications that could help support humanity’s next giant leap: NASA sending astronauts to Mars. More information about the mission
DSOC is the latest in a series of optical communications demonstrations funded by NASA’s Technology Demonstration Mission (TDM) program and the agency’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages DSOC for TDM in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and SCaN in the agency’s Space Operations Mission Directorate. Mission Psyche is led by Arizona State University. JPL is responsible for overall mission management, system development, integration and testing, and mission operations. Psyche is the 14th mission in NASA’s Discovery program and is led by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center, manages launch services. Maxar Technologies, based in Palo Alto, California, supplied the heavy-duty solar electric propulsion spacecraft chassis.