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NASA’s Psyche Spacecraft Makes History with Successful Laser Communication Test

Earth has received a successful signal from deep space, courtesy of NASA’s Psyche spacecraft, in a development that marks a significant leap in space communication technology.

Launched in October 2023, Psyche is on a mission to explore the metallic asteroid 16 Psyche, located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. But beyond its primary objective, the spacecraft is also a pioneer for deep space optical communications.

Psyche is equipped with the Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) system, designed to transmit data using lasers instead of traditional radio waves. This technology promises much faster communication over vast interstellar distances.

The recent test, conducted on April 8th, saw Psyche successfully transmit engineering data back to Earth from a distance exceeding 140 million miles – a feat that’s one and a half times the Earth-Sun distance! This accomplishment involved the DSOC system interfacing with Psyche’s radio transmitter, demonstrating its ability to relay information directly.

Project lead Meera Srinivasan of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) highlighted the successful transmission of duplicated spacecraft data during the test. This data was sent via both laser communication and traditional radio channels, allowing researchers to compare their effectiveness.

The test results are promising. While Psyche’s current distance limits the data rate, the DSOC system achieved a maximum transmission speed of 25 Mbps, exceeding the project’s target of 1 Mbps for such a distance. Notably, this rate is comparable to broadband internet speeds when the spacecraft was closer to Earth.

As Psyche continues its journey towards its namesake asteroid, it remains stable and healthy, paving the way for further exploration and advancements in deep space communication.

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