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Updated December 19th, 2023 at 19:57 IST

NASA beams a cat video 31 million km away from Earth via laser. Here's why its a big deal

NASA announced a new milestone which will enable high-speed data transfer from deep space, paving way for speedy communications in future missions.

Reported by: Harsh Vardhan
Psyche
Artist's representation of the Psyche spacecraft and asteroid. | Image:NASA
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NASA just announced a major milestone that will enable communication in deep space during future missions beyond Earth orbit. This milestone is beaming a high-definition streaming video to Earth using lasers from a distance which is about 80 times the distance between Earth and Moon.

In an official statement, NASA said that this achievement came under the Deep Space Optical Communications experiment launched aboard the Pysche spacecraft on October 13.

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The video in question is 15 second long and it was transmitted from a distance of 31 million kilometers. This video features a Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) employee's tabby cat named Taters chasing a laser pointer and it took 101 seconds to reach Earth at a rate of 267 Mbps.

A still of Taters from the video beamed by Psyche. Image: NASA/JPL

"Despite transmitting from millions of miles away, it was able to send the video faster than most broadband internet connections,” Ryan Rogalin, the project’s receiver electronics lead at JPL said in an official statement.

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The Psyche spacecraft which was launched to explore a metal-rich asteroid is equipped with an instrument called the flight laser transceiver and it beamed an encoded near-infrared laser to the Hale Telescope at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in California.

"One of the goals is to demonstrate the ability to transmit broadband video across millions of miles. Nothing on Psyche generates video data, so we usually send packets of randomly generated test data,” said Bill Klipstein, the tech demo’s project manager.

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As the Psyche spacecraft continues its journey to its namesake asteroid, it will continue to transmit data from a distance which could be as far off as Earth's maximum distance from Mars - approximately 400 million km. 

Why the laser tech is a big deal

NASA says that the demo tech launched with Psyche is designed to transmit data in space 10 to 100 times faster than existing radio frequency systems used for deep space communications. 

This comes as a major leap in advancing communications technology in outer space at a time when NASA is preparing to return to the Moon after more than five decades. The agency is developing its Artemis Program which began with Artemis 1 and will end with a full fledged sustainable base on the Moon. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has said that the Artemis Program will serve as a test bed to prepare for missions to Mars and beyond. 

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NASA said that this achievement has paved the way for “higher-data-rate communications capable of sending complex scientific information, high-definition imagery, and video” in its way to Mars. Speedy communication will ensure a swift data transfer between the astronauts far out into space about their discoveries and emergencies. 

 

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Published December 19th, 2023 at 19:57 IST

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