The Psyche Mission spacecraft, as part of a NASA experiment, has successfully transmitted test data using a near-infrared laser from a staggering distance of nearly 16 million kilometers. This remarkable achievement surpasses any previous demonstration of optical communications, as it is 40 times the distance between the Moon and the Earth. NASA has once again pushed the boundaries of space exploration.
NASA’s recent launch of the Psyche Mission spacecraft includes the Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) experiment. This experiment will utilize DSOC to transmit high-bandwidth test data back to Earth as the Psyche spacecraft journeys towards the main asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter.
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In an exciting update, NASA announced last week that the DSOC experiment successfully achieved its “first light” milestone. During the early hours of November 14, the flight laser transceiver on board Psyche successfully locked onto a powerful uplink laser beacon transmitted from the Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory at NASA’s Table Mountain Facility in California.
The flight laser transceiver is a cutting-edge instrument equipped on the Psyche Mission spacecraft, enabling it to both send and receive near-infrared signals.
The downlink laser of the spacecraft successfully redirected its signal back to Palomar, located approximately 130 kilometers south of Table Mountain, thanks to the assistance of the uplink beacon. The transceiver and ground station’s automated systems meticulously adjusted the laser communication’s pointing and reception.
Optical communications have previously been demonstrated in low-Earth orbit and even to the Moon, but DSOC marks the first test conducted in deep space. Just imagine the challenge of using a laser to track a fast-moving one-rupee coin that is about a kilometer away. However, employing lasers for communication with a spacecraft millions of kilometers distant in deep space is exponentially more complex, demanding utmost precision in “pointing.”
The pointers and receivers must also account for the time it takes for light to travel such immense distances. When Psyche is at its farthest point from Earth, it will take approximately 20 minutes for the near-infrared laser beams to reach our planet. During this time, both the spacecraft and the planet will have undergone relative movement.
when will the psyche mission launch?
Psyche launched Oct. 13, 2023, at 10:19 a.m. EDT from Kennedy Space Center. Psyche lifted off from Launch Pad 39A aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. (Psyche is the first in a series of NASA science missions to be the primary payloads launched on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.)
Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the lead researcher of the Psyche mission at Arizona State University in Tempe, bid farewell to the spacecraft that has been the focal point of countless individuals’ professional lives for ten years.
Nevertheless, she stressed that this is not the conclusion, but rather the commencement of a fresh expedition. The spacecraft is currently en route to rendezvous with the asteroid, which will grant us additional knowledge and understanding of another realm within our solar system.
why is the psyche mission interesting?
Laurie Leshin, the head of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, expressed her enthusiasm as they embark on the exciting journey to asteroid Psyche. Their mission is to unravel the mysteries surrounding planet formation and evolution.
JPL is responsible for managing, engineering, integrating, testing, and operating the entire mission. After the launch, the spacecraft successfully separated from its rocket about an hour later.
At 11:50 a.m. EDT, around the 90-minute mark, it established two-way communication with NASA’s Deep Space Network complex in Canberra, Australia. The initial telemetry data indicated that the spacecraft is in excellent condition.
Nicola Fox, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, expressed her excitement about the upcoming mission to asteroid Psyche. She believes that this mission will unlock a treasure trove of scientific knowledge about the metal world.
By studying Psyche, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of our universe and our place within it. One of the main objectives is to explore the mysterious and inaccessible metal core of our own planet, Earth.
The spacecraft will be captured by Psyche’s gravity in late July 2029, and the prime mission will commence in August. Over the course of approximately two years, Psyche will orbit the asteroid, capturing images, mapping the surface, and collecting data to determine its composition.