NASA’s Psyche Probe Successfully Tests Space Laser Communication Over Record Distance

NASA's Psyche Probe Successfully Tests Space Laser Communication Over Record Distance

The US space agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), has successfully tested optical data transmission in space. The Psyche probe, en route to an asteroid, transmitted a message to Earth using lasers.

Psyche was launched on October 13, 2023, and is headed towards an asteroid bearing the same name, which it is expected to reach by 2029. On board, it carries the Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) communication system.

From a distance of nearly 16 million kilometers, DSOC sent and received data from Earth on November 14, as announced by NASA. These transmissions were carried out using a laser operating in the near-infrared spectrum. The Earth’s receiving end was the Hale Telescope in California.

The signal took less than a minute to travel

While NASA has used optical communication earlier, for instance, in low Earth orbit or towards the Moon, this marks the farthest distance achieved for optical data transmission. The optical signal covered the nearly 16 million kilometers in just 50 seconds.

Optical data transmission offers advantages over conventional radio communication, allowing data rates approximately 10 to 100 times higher. Additionally, laser communication is more energy-efficient compared to radio communication. However, a drawback is the precise alignment required between the transmitter and receiver. NASA likened aligning a laser beam over such a distance to tracking a moving quarter-dollar coin with a laser pointer from a distance of 1.6 kilometers.

“Optical communication is a boon for scientists seeking more from their space missions and will enable human exploration of space,” said Jason Mitchell, Head of Advanced Communication and Navigation Technologies at NASA. “More data means more discoveries.

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Michael Lynch
With a passion for cybersecurity, Michael Lynch covers data protection and online privacy, providing expert guidance and updates on digital security matters.