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Extraterrestrial Technology: NASA Spacecraft Sends Record-Breaking Laser Transmission 140 Million Miles

NASA's Psyche Delivers Laser Message From 140 Million Miles Away
Source: NASA

This watershed moment provides a taste of how spacecraft like Psyche 'could use optical communications in support of humanity’s next giant leap: sending humans to Mars,' NASA wrote.

May 28 2024, Published 1:03 p.m. ET

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A new era in long-distance communication has dawned with a groundbreaking achievement: a laser transmission spanning a staggering 140 million miles, setting a potential record for both our world and beyond, which could be monumental for the trajectory of space exploration.

Contrary to expectations, this historic correspondence didn't originate from extraterrestrial beings; rather, it emanated from NASA's Psyche spacecraft, currently positioned at a distance approximately 1.5 times farther from Earth than the sun.

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Meera Srinivasan, the project's operations lead at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, hailed this milestone as a significant leap forward, demonstrating the integration of optical communications with a spacecraft's radio frequency systems, according to NASA.

This remarkable achievement was made possible through a feature aboard Psyche known as Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC), one of the mission's key components.

Psyche's primary objective revolves around the exploration of 16 Psyche, the asteroid after which it's named. By harnessing laser communications, NASA aims to revolutionize interstellar communication, promising higher bandwidth and faster connections — potentially 10 to 100 times swifter than existing methods — between Earth and space probes.

Notably, NASA not only sent a laser message across a record-breaking distance but also successfully transmitted actual spacecraft data — a monumental breakthrough.

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Srinivasan elaborated that approximately 10 minutes of duplicated spacecraft data were downlinked, a departure from previous transmissions that only included test and diagnostic data.

This achievement represents the culmination of a series of messages relayed by Psyche since its launch atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket on October 13, 2023.

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During a test run in December, Psyche transmitted data from 19 million miles away at a maximum rate of 267 megabits per second, comparable to broadband internet speeds. Although the latest DSOC transmission operated at a slower pace — 25 megabits — the success of achieving even this reduced speed at such a vast distance surpassed the project's initial goal of proving a minimum of 1 Mbps feasible.

This breakthrough sets the stage for leveraging optical communications in future space endeavors, including the ambitious goal of sending humans to Mars, according to NASA.

Psyche, scheduled to conduct a flyby of the Red Planet by 2026, will subsequently set course for its primary destination, 16 Psyche, expected to be reached by 2029.

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