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Flight laser communication experiment on ship NASA’s Psych Mission A video beamed back to Earth from nearly 19 million miles (31 million kilometers) away — and the short clip stars a cat named Taters. This is the first time NASA has used a laser to broadcast video from space.
In Ultra High Definition VideoA playful orange tabby cat chases.
CAT video was sent back to Earth from the aircraft’s laser transceiver as part of the Deep Space Optical Communications Experiment, or DSOC. As humans push the limits of space exploration by going to places like Mars, the technology could one day be used to rapidly transmit data, images and videos.
The 15-second video was encoded with an infrared laser and beamed to the Hale telescope from the Psyche spacecraft at the California Institute of Technology’s Palomar Laboratory. The video was downloaded at the observatory on December 11, and every frame was broadcast live to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
During the transfer, the distance between the Psyche spacecraft and Hale was 80 times greater than the distance between the Earth and the Moon. The laser only took 101 seconds for each Earth.
The laser can transmit data 10 to 100 times faster than traditional radio wave systems used by NASA on other missions. The technology demo is designed to be the most distant experiment of NASA’s high-bandwidth laser communications, testing sending and receiving data to and from Earth using an invisible near-infrared laser.
“This achievement underscores our commitment to developing optical communications as a critical component of meeting our future data transmission needs,” NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy said in a statement. “Increasing our bandwidth is essential to achieving our future exploration and science goals, and we look forward to the continued advancement of this technology and how we communicate during future interplanetary missions.”
Launched in mid-October, the Psyche mission is currently on its way to capture humanity’s first glimpse of a metallic asteroid between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The spacecraft will travel 2.2 billion miles (3.6 billion kilometers) over the next six years to reach its namesake, located just outside the main asteroid belt.
Members of the Deep Space Optical Communications team watch the first video sent from space by a laser arrive on their computer screens on December 11.
But the Deep Space Optical Communications Experiment is doing its own thing in the first two years of the trip.
“One of the goals is to demonstrate the ability to transmit broadband video over millions of miles. Nothing in Cyc produces video data, so we routinely send randomly generated packets of test data,” Bill Klipstein, DSOC program manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.
“But to make this remarkable event even more memorable, we decided to work with designers at JPL to create a fun video that captures the essence of the demo as part of the Psych mission.”
The DSOC team works with creators at JPL’s in-house DesignLab to decide which video they want to test in deep space.
The video, which was uploaded to DSOC before Psyche’s launch, also includes a graphics overlay showing Psyche’s orbital path, the Palomar telescope dome, and Daters’ color, race, and heart rate.
“Despite sending from a million miles away, we were able to transmit video faster than most broadband Internet connections,” Ryan Rogalin, JPL’s DSOC receiver electronics lead, said in a statement.
“Actually, after receiving the video at Palomar, it was sent over the Internet to JPL, and the link was slower than the signal from deep space. JPL’s DesignLab did a wonderful job helping us visualize this technology—everyone loves Taters.”
Apart from the widespread popularity of cat videos and memes, DSOC’s decision to add a cat video to the milestone is a nod to broadcasting history. According to NASA, the figurine from the Felix the Cat cartoon was used in television test broadcasts beginning in 1928.
The latest successful test of the laser experiment comes after DSOC’s milestone on November 14 Achieving what engineers called “first light”. Achievement of its first successful transmission and reception of data. Since then, the technology demo has only improved, showing capabilities such as improved pointing accuracy, which is essential when sending laser messages from space to Earth.
The laser’s fast data downlink speeds are comparable to broadband Internet, and the DSOC team recently downloaded 1.3 terabits of data in one evening — comparable to the 1.2 terabits sent by NASA’s Magellan mission to Venus over four years in the 1990s.
“When we reached the first light, we were excited, but also cautious. This is a new technology, and we’re testing how it works,” Ken Andrews, JPL’s project flight operations lead, said in a statement. “But now, With the help of our Psych colleagues, we are getting used to working with the computer and can be locked in the shuttle and ground terminals for longer than before. We learn something new with every checkout.