NASA achieves milestone in deep space communication with laser signal from 10m miles away

NASA has successfully received a signal from a spacecraft positioned an astounding 10 million miles away, utilizing a distant laser. This milestone marks a significant leap forward in NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) experiment, demonstrating the potential to revolutionize communications with spacecraft beyond the Moon.

The conventional method for communicating with deep space probes involves radio signals transmitted to and from colossal antennas on Earth. While, this approach suffers from limited bandwidth, hindering the transfer of large data files such as high-definition photos and videos. NASA’s DSOC initiative aims to overcome these limitations by exploring optical communications through lasers, a technology that could enhance data rates by up to 100 times.


The recent successful test involved relaying data through a laser from a spacecraft positioned over 40 times the distance from the lunar surface, marking the first instance of such a communication breakthrough. The spacecraft in question is part of NASA’s Psyche mission, which departed Earth last month on a mission to study a distant asteroid. Equipped with a laser transceiver capable of sending and receiving laser signals in near-infrared, the spacecraft achieved a significant feat by locking onto a NASA laser beacon in California.

“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.

The precision required in pointing the laser signal is likened to the challenge of aiming a light at a coin from a mile away. Complicating matters further, both the laser and its target are in constant motion. As the light travels from Psyche’s furthest distance to Earth, a journey taking approximately 20 minutes, both the spacecraft and the planet undergo significant movements.

The NASA team will focus on refining the systems ensuring the spacecraft accurately directs its lasers. Once achieved, NASA plans to conduct an experiment to demonstrate the spacecraft’s ability to maintain high-bandwidth data transfer at varying distances from Earth. This involves breaking down the data into bits encoded in the photons of light transmitted by the spacecraft. These encoded bits of information can then be reassembled into images or other critical data upon arrival at Earth, showcasing the potential of laser communication for future deep space missions, including those involving human exploration.

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