NASA Transmits Deep Space Laser Data Over A Record-Breaking 140 Million Miles

hero nasa jpl psyche spacecraft
NASA received a deep space laser message from its Psyche spacecraft from over 140 million miles (226 million kilometers) away. The laser message was transmitted by the space agency’s Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) experiment onboard the Psyche spacecraft.

Psyche is on its way to a unique metal-rich asteroid, of the same name, orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. NASA is hopeful Psyche will be able to confirm the asteroid has an exposed nickel-iron core, a building block of planet formation. However, before it reaches the asteroid, the team back on Earth is testing out its DSOC experiment, which aims to demonstrate high-bandwidth communications in deep space for the first time.

“We downlinked about 10 minutes of duplicated spacecraft data during a pass on April 8,” remarked Meera Srinivasan, the project’s operations lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “Until then, we’d been sending test and diagnostic data in our downlinks from Psyche. This represents a significant milestone for the project by showing how optical communications can interface with a spacecraft’s radio frequency comms system.”

nasa jpl psyche position

If proven successful, the new way of communication from millions of miles away will enable higher-data-rate communications of complex scientific information, as well as high-definition imagery and video. The experimental laser communications technology being used onboard Psyche is designed to transmit data from deep space at rates 10-100 times faster than the state-of-the-art radio frequency systems currently used in missions.

So far, NASA says DSOC has exceeded expectations, transmitting test data at a maximum rate of 267 megabits per second on December 11, 2023. This is a transmission rate some people don’t receive here on Earth. So, to do so from millions of miles away is indeed impressive. A bit less impressive was a maximum rate of 25Mbps, but that came from seven times farther away from Earth than it did in December.

“After receiving the data from the DSN and Palomar, we verified the optically downlinked data at JPL,” remarked Ken Andrews, project flight operations lead at JPL. “It was a small amount of data downlinked over a short time frame, but the fact we’re doing this now has surpassed all of our expectations.”

As Psyche continues its journey to the iron-rich asteroid, NASA plans on continuing to test the new DSOC technology. Being clear skies back on Earth are essential for communication, HotHardware wishes nothing but sunny days for the locations where data is received.