NASA Tests Record-Breaking Laser Communicator on Psyche Spacecraft

From ExtremeTech: NASA's Psyche spacecraft is en route to an asteroid of the same name, but it won't arrive until 2028. In the meantime, NASA has used Psyche to test a new technology that could change how it communicates with spacecraft. The Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) experiment has successfully beamed data to and from Earth with a laser, setting a record for the farthest-ever example of optical communication.

Today, all of NASA's deep space missions remain in contact with Earth via the Deep Space Network, a collection of radio frequency parabolic reflector antennas spread around the globe. DSOC relies on near-infrared lasers to transmit data, which has the potential to transmit much more data than radio signals. That should come as no surprise—fiber optic technology is the super-fast backbone of all terrestrial communication.

Psyche is currently out beyond the Moon's orbit, making this the first time laser communication has been achieved at such great distances. NASA confirmed "first light" for DSOC on Nov. 14 after the on-board flight laser transceiver locked onto an uplink beacon from an Earth ground station at JPL’s Table Mountain Facility. This uplink beam helps the spacecraft align itself to transmit, which is essential as it is already 20 light-minutes away from Earth. Test data was sent simultaneously via uplink and downlink, confirming that DSOC can "close the link," which is the primary goal of the experiment.

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