Ten million miles away, a spacecraft has sent a signal to NASA.
According to the space agency, the message, which was sent via a far-off laser, has the potential to “transform” communications with spacecraft, says the report published on cnn. com
It signifies the accomplishment of a successful test for NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications experiment, or DSOC.
Additionally, it represents a sharp increase at a distance greater than 40 times that of the lunar surface and is the first instance of data being successfully transmitted via a laser from a location other than the Moon.
At the moment, radio signals transmitted and received from massive antennas on Earth are used for nearly all communications with spacecraft.
Last month, NASA’s Psyche mission, which set out to study a far-off asteroid, became the first attempt to test technology beyond Earth’s Moon. A near-infrared laser transceiver that can transmit and receive laser signals is carried by the spacecraft.
That apparatus locked onto a NASA laser beacon in California last week. According to NASA, this “first light” achievement is just one component of several tests intended to demonstrate the viability of laser technology.
“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 for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at Nasa Headquarters in Washington.
Nasa likens the precision pointing of the laser signal to trying to point a light at a coin from a mile away. What’s more, the laser and its target are constantly moving: in the 20 minutes it will take for the light to travel to Earth from Psyche’s furthest distance, both the planet and the spacecraft will have moved significantly.
The team will now work to refine the systems that ensure the spacecraft is pointing its lasers in the right direction. When that happens, Nasa will try an experiment to demonstrate that the spacecraft is able to maintain high-bandwidth data transfer at different distances from Earth.