NASA's DSOC experiment sends data via laser to and from far beyond the Moon
- United States
NASA's Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) experiment, the agency's first demonstration of optical communications beyond the Earth-Moon system, has beamed a near-infrared laser encoded with test data from nearly 10 million miles (16 million kms) away - nearly 40 times farther than the Moon is from Earth, making it the farthest-ever demonstration of optical communications. The data was transmitted to the Hale Telescope at Caltech's Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California.
Launched aboard the agency's Psyche spacecraft in October 2023, DSOC consists of a flight laser transceiver, a ground laser transmitter, and a ground laser receiver, each equipped with advanced technologies.
The experiment achieved the first light on November 14 after its flight laser transceiver - an instrument aboard Psyche spacecraft – locked onto a powerful uplink laser beacon transmitted from the Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory at JPL's Table Mountain Facility near Wrightwood, California.
According to NASA, the uplink beacon helped the transceiver aim its downlink laser back to Palomar (around 100 miles or 130 kilometres south of Table Mountain) while automated systems on the transceiver and ground stations fine-tuned its pointing.
"Achieving first light is one of many critical DSOC milestones in the coming months, paving the way toward higher-data-rate communications capable of sending scientific information, high-definition imagery, and streaming video in support of humanity's next giant leap: sending humans to Mars," said Trudy Kortes, director of Technology Demonstrations at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
NASA said that the tech demo isn't transmitting Psyche mission data, it works closely with the Psyche mission-support team to ensure that its operations don’t interfere with those of the spacecraft.
Remember the tech demo that launched with #MissionToPsyche? Well, it just called home.It's the first time data has been transmitted – via laser – beyond the Moon, and it could transform how spacecraft communicate.More on DSOC: https://t.co/LydN2YaQIn pic.twitter.com/NUaSzB53kv— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) November 17, 2023
Now that DSOC has achieved the first light, the next step is to refine the systems that control the pointing of the downlink laser aboard the transceiver. Thereafter, the project can begin its demonstration of maintaining high-bandwidth data transmission from the transceiver to Palomar at various distances from Earth. NASA said in a statement.