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Earth Receives First Laser Message From 16 Million Km From Deep Space

In a pioneering feat, Earth has received laser-transmitted communication from an astounding distance of 16 million kilometres, marking a revolutionary milestone in optical communications. NASA's Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) tool, embarked on the Psyche spacecraft, facilitated this extraordinary achievement, showcasing capabilities far surpassing traditional radio-based communication.

The breakthrough experiment, executed by DSOC aboard NASA's Psyche spacecraft, commenced its journey from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on October 13. Successfully relaying a laser-transmitted message back to Earth, the spacecraft established a communication link with the Hale Telescope at California's Palomar Observatory on November 14. Travelling at the speed of near-infrared photons, the signal took approximately 50 seconds to traverse the vast expanse between Psyche and Earth during the test phase.

Termed as the 'first light,' this victorious connection represents a pivotal step in DSOC's progression toward high-data-rate communications, capable of transmitting vital scientific data, high-definition imagery, and even streaming video—a significant leap forward for humanity.

Trudy Kortes, Director of Technology Demonstrations at NASA Headquarters, highlighted the importance of achieving 'first light' and its role in advancing future space endeavours. "Achieving 'first light' is a critical milestone for DSOC, paving the way for enhanced communications that can significantly contribute to humanity's exploration journey," she stated.

Abi Biswas, the project technologist for DSOC at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, emphasized the monumental achievement of receiving 'first light.' "The successful detection of deep space laser photons from DSOC's flight transceiver aboard Psyche, coupled with data transmission, demonstrates our capability to exchange 'bits of light' to and from deep space," Biswas stated.

The Psyche spacecraft's primary mission revolves around exploring the metallic asteroid Psyche, offering profound insights into planetary formation and core dynamics. With a planned duration of two years, the experiment entails sending and receiving laser signals from increasingly distant locations on its trajectory toward the final destination. Anticipated to reach the asteroid in 2029, the spacecraft will subsequently enter orbit around Psyche.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson underscored the significance of the Psyche mission in uncovering invaluable information about planetary formation while testing cutting-edge technologies for future missions. "As we navigate Asteroid Autumn, NASA remains committed to exploring the unknown and inspiring discovery worldwide through initiatives like the Psyche mission," Nelson affirmed.

Presently, deep space communications rely on radio signals transmitted and received through expansive Earth-based antennas, limiting bandwidth. However, this innovative experiment aims to revolutionize space communications by harnessing lasers to transmit information, potentially offering communication speeds 10 to 100 times faster than existing equipment.

NASA envisions a future where laser-based communication not only aids human and robotic missions but also enables the deployment of higher-resolution instruments for comprehensive exploration of deep space.


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