NASA is slated to begin its Psyche mission on Friday, launching its spacecraft to a metal-rich asteroid to gather new information on iron cores — a never-before explored "building block of planet formation."
Alongside its launch, the space company will also enact its Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) experiment, its "first demonstration of laser, or optical, communications from as far away as Mars."
Why Is the DSOC Experiment Important?
In line with the Psyche mission, this experiment will test how lasers could transmit data from deep space, and even stream video from Mars. Until now, interspace communications beyond the moon could only be done with the use of radio waves.
With optical communications which will be tested through the DSOC, data gathering can become between 10 and 100 times more efficient, enabling "future human and robotic exploration missions, along with supporting higher-resolution science instruments."
The DSOC experiment also aims to demonstrate high-rate transmission of data in distances never achieved before.
In the first two years of the Psyche spacecraft's six-year travel, the experiment will attempt to transmit data within distances of 240 million miles — more than twice the distance between our planet and the Sun.
This is where the challenge lies, as the laser photon signals grow more faint the bigger the distance from the transceiver to Earth.
"As an additional challenge, the photons will take longer to reach their destination, creating a lag of over 20 minutes at the tech demo’s farthest distance," NASA explained.
For the high-rate transmission to work, both the transceiver attached to Psyche and the Earth-based transmitter need to be precise with their directions.
While the DSOC stands as NASA's farthest high-bandwith communication to date, it had enacted similar experiments in previous years.
In 2021, it launched its Laser Communications Relay Demonstration to test optical communications that "don't require a direct line of sight" with Earth to communicate.
Edited by Nikola Djuric