Why a NASA spacecraft fired a laser at Earth, and why it is a big deal
- Recently, NASA's Psyche spacecraft, en route to a metal-rich asteroid orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter, successfully transmitted a laser signal to Earth.
- The asteroid is believed to be the nickel-iron core of an early planet, providing insights into Earth's iron core.
Challenges in Space Communication
- Communicating with distant spacecraft poses challenges, particularly in data rates.
- Current space communication mainly relies on radio waves having the highest wave lengths but lowest frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum.
- However, data transmission at high bandwidths is desirable for faster data transfer.
NASA's Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) Experiment
- Utilises near-infrared laser signals for communication, providing data rates at least 10 times higher than current radio telecommunications systems.
- Psyche spacecraft is the first to carry a DSOC transceiver, testing high-bandwidth optical communications to Earth during its journey.
- The technology relies on
- Extremely precise pointing
- Isolation from spacecraft vibrations
- Compensation for changing positions
- New signal-processing techniques
Future Implications for Space Travel
- DSOC's advancements pave the way for high-bandwidth communications far beyond the Moon and over 1,000 times farther than any previous optical communications test.
- Improved communication technology is crucial for future space exploration, including sending humans to Mars.