NASA Tests Revolutionary New Laser Communication System

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NASA released a blog post revealing that it is testing laser technologies that could play an important role in crewed missions to Mars and could enable probes in deep space to communicate data back to Earth.

The Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) project will be launched this upcoming fall to test how lasers could increase data transmission speed compared to the current conventional radio frequency space communications.

According to Interesting Engineering, for this experiment, NASA will fit the DSOC near-infrared laser transceiver on the “Psyche” spacecraft scheduled to launch this October. During the first two years of the journey, the DSOC near-infrared laser transceiver will communicate with two ground stations in southern California.

Laser communications for space are currently being explored by NASA because they could potentially prove infinitely more useful than existing radio-based communications systems.

So how does it work? According to Interesting Engineering, while both radio and laser systems use electromagnetic waves to transmit data, near-infrared light in NASA demonstration technology condenses data into much tighter waves, transferring more data in a fraction of the time.

“DSOC represents the next phase of NASA’s plans for developing revolutionary improved communications technologies that have the capability to increase data transmissions from space — which is critical for the agency’s future ambitions,” explains Trudy Kortes who is the director of the Technology Demonstrations Missions (TDM) program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

According to Interesting Engineering, the transceiver is programmed to autonomously lock onto an uplink laser transmitted by the Optical Communication Telescope Laboratory. Once locked on, it will locate the Hale Telescope at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in San Diego and will finally use the near-infrared laser to transmit high-rate data to Palomar.

With the increasing number of missions planned to fly to deep space, NASA is working to improve its communications technology. The new DSOC system is expected to completely change our ability to analyze and experience space from Earth.