Achieving high-speed communication between space and laser light. The importance of the mission carried out by the successfully launched probe “Saiki” | WIRED.jp Latest


On the morning of October 13th (US time), the asteroid probe “Psyche” of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) headed for the asteroid “Psyche”, from which it takes its name. It was launched. Psyche is an asteroid made mostly of metal.

The long-delayed launch of the Psyche probe will now use a number of scientific instruments to investigate the asteroid Psyche. The goal is to test the theory that Psyche is the core of a protoplanet that never fully developed into a planet.

However, the Saiki spacecraft’s mission is not limited to that; another important experiment is also planned. The project, called Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC), is a test of next-generation communications technology that uses laser technology to transfer large amounts of data between Earth and spacecraft far away.

Compared to communication using radio waves, the communication capacity of DSOC is expected to be significantly improved by 10 to 100 times. Currently, radio waves are the only way to send and receive signals in space, but as spacecraft aim farther away, the amount of data that needs to be sent and received is increasing, and in the future radio waves will no longer be able to handle it.

If the DSOC experiment is successful, it could revolutionize next-generation missions. In the future, it may be possible for probes to transmit high-resolution images to Earth, or for astronauts to transmit images from Mars to Earth.

Abi Biswas, a DSOC project engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, explains: “We are trying to demonstrate the possibility of transmitting data at extremely high data rates over distances like Earth and Mars. Human exploration of Mars, which is of great interest, will also require high-bandwidth data transfer.”

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DSOC’s near-infrared laser transceiver is housed in a tubular sunshield that protrudes from one side of the Saiki spacecraft. It is designed to support high-speed data transmission using a 4W laser and low-speed data reception from Earth using a photon-counting camera, and both signals are exchanged via an 8.6-inch (approximately 21.4 cm) telescope. will be done.

Aiming to realize high-speed communication using lasers

Engineers will begin testing the system about 20 days after launch. However, this is just a technology demonstration, and data from Saiki’s mission will be transferred using conventional radio communications.

DSOC plans to send and receive laser signals about once a week. Engineers will spend the first two years or so testing data transmitters and detectors as Psyche spends nearly six years heading toward Psyche.

Similar technology has previously been used to communicate with European Space Agency (ESA) satellites in geostationary orbit and NASA’s moon-orbiting satellites. However, this time, the test will be carried out at a distance of 200 million to 300 million miles (approximately 320 million to 480 million km). This is the first time such technology has been tested at this distance, much farther than the moon.

A superconducting nanowire detector kept at 1 Kelvin (minus 272.15 degrees Celsius) receives signals sent from the Saiki spacecraft.

Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech