Laser enhancement for NASA’s deep space communications

Earth art concept for laser communications

NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) project is scheduled to launch this fall to explore the capabilities of lasers in enhancing the transmission of space data.

NASA It is testing technologies in space and on the ground that can increase the bandwidth to transmit more complex scientific data and even stream video from it Mars.

NASA’s Optical Deep Space Communications Vehicle is scheduled to launch this fall (Dsuk) The project will test how lasers can accelerate data transmission beyond the capability of current radio frequency systems used in space. Known as a technology demonstration, DSOC may pave the way for broadband communications that will help power humanity’s next giant leap: when NASA sends astronauts to Mars.

The DSOC’s near-infrared laser transceiver (a device that can transmit and receive data) will carry out NASA’s “Psyche” mission when it blasts off to the mineral-rich asteroid of the same name in October. For the first two years of the flight, the transponder will communicate with two ground stations in Southern California, testing highly sensitive detectors, powerful laser transmitters, and new ways to decode the signals the transceiver is sending back from deep space.

Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) aeronautical transceiver.

The Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) transceiver is housed inside a large tube-like umbrella and telescope on the Psyche spacecraft, seen here in a clean room at JPL. The previous image shows the transponder assembly before it was integrated with the spacecraft. Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

visual communication capabilities

NASA is focusing on laser or optical communications because of its ability to bypass the radio wave bandwidth that the space agency has relied on for more than half a century. Both radio communications and near-infrared lasers are used Electromagnetic waves to transmit data, but near-infrared light packs data into tighter wavelengths, allowing ground stations to receive more data at one time.

“DSOC is designed to demonstrate 10 to 100 times the data return capability of the most modern radio systems in use in space today,” said Abi Biswas, DSOC project technology expert at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “High-bandwidth laser communications have been demonstrated to near-Earth orbits and to satellites orbiting the Moon, but deep space presents new challenges.”

More missions are heading into deep space than ever before, and they promise to produce exponentially more data than previous missions in the form of sophisticated science measurements, high-resolution images, and videos. So experiments like DSOC will play a critical role in helping NASA develop technologies that can be used routinely by spacecraft and ground systems in the future.

Telescope Hill dome

The Hale telescope at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California, will receive a high-speed data download link from the DSOC Aeronautical Transceiver. The telescope is equipped with a superconducting detector capable of timing the arrival of individual photons from deep space. Credit: Palomar/California Institute of Technology

“DSOC represents the next phase in NASA’s plans to develop improved, revolutionary communications technologies that have the potential to augment data transmissions from space—critical to the agency’s future ambitions,” said Trudy Curtis, Director of the Technology Demo Mission Program (TDM). At NASA headquarters in Washington. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to test this technology during Psyche’s flight.”

Pioneering technologies

The transponder on Psyche features many new technologies, including unprecedented flight Photon– A camera attached to an 8.6-inch (22 cm) aperture telescope protruding from the side of the spacecraft. The transceiver will independently scan and “lock” the high-energy near-infrared laser uplink transmitted by the Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory at Jet Propulsion LaboratoryTable Mountain facility near Wrightwood, California. The laser uplink will also indicate sending commands to the transceiver.

“The powerful uplink laser is a critical part of this technology demonstration to achieve higher rates for spacecraft, and upgrades to our ground systems will enable optical communications for future deep space missions,” said Jason Mitchell, executive director of NASA’s Communications and Astronautics Program.SCaN) program at NASA Headquarters.

Once mounted on the uplink laser, the transponder will locate the 200-inch (5.1-meter) Hale telescope at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California, about 100 miles (130 kilometers) south of Table Mountain. The transceiver will then use a near-infrared laser to transmit high-speed data to Palomar. The spacecraft’s vibrations that might push the laser off target will be mitigated by modern struts connecting the transceiver to the Psyche.

To receive the high-speed downlink laser from the DSOC transceiver, the Hale telescope is equipped with a new superconductor Single photon detector with nanowires crowd. The array is cryogenically cooled so that a single laser photon (a quantum particle of light) can be detected and its time of arrival recorded. Like a train of pulses, the laser light must travel more than 200 million miles (300 million kilometers) — the farthest a spacecraft will travel during this technology demonstration — before the faint signals can be detected and processed to extract information.

“Every component of DSOC demonstrates a new technology, from the high-energy uplink lasers to the signaling system on the transceiver telescope to the highly sensitive detectors that can count single photons,” said Bill Klebstein, DSOC project lead at JPL. upon her arrival.” boss. “The team even needed to develop new signal processing techniques to extract information from these weak signals transmitted over great distances.”

challenges and innovations

Huge distances pose another challenge for the technology display: the more Psyche travels, the longer it takes photons to reach their destination, creating lags of up to tens of minutes. The positions of the Earth and spacecraft will constantly change as the laser photons travel, so this delay must be compensated for.

“Guiding the laser and stabilization over millions of miles while dealing with the relative motion of Earth and self presents an exciting challenge for our project,” said Biswas.

More about the mission

DSOC will demonstrate operations approximately two years after the launch of NASA’s Psyche mission while on its way to a close flyby of Mars in 2026. While the DSOC transceiver will be hosted by the Psyche spacecraft, the technology demonstration will not transmit Psyche mission data. The success of each project is evaluated independently of the other.

DSOC is the latest in a series of Visual communication demonstrations Funded by TDM and SCaN. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, manages the DSOC for TDM within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and the SCaN within the agency’s Space Operations Mission Directorate.

The Psyche mission is led by Arizona State University. JPL is responsible for overall mission management, system engineering, integration and testing, and mission operations. Psyche is part of NASA’s Discovery Program.

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