May 19, 2024 at 12:40 pm

NASA Just Beamed A Message Back To Earth From 141 Million Miles Away, And It Was 25 Times Faster Than They Anticipated

by Trisha Leigh

Source: NASA/JPL

If you ask most “regular people,” they would likely admit that wrapping their heads around how far away things actually are in space is a bit of a stretch.

I know that’s true for me.

So, it almost seems impossible that NASA would be able to receive a message from 140 million miles out.

The Psyche mission was dispatched to study a strange asteroid and for NASA to test a new communication system.

It doesn’t use radio waves but an infrared laser, and so far, has not been successfully tested from such a long way.

Source: NASA/JPL

Until now, Psyche has transmitted engineering data through NASA’s Deep Space Network using radio waves.

They decided to test the infrared laser system for the first time using real data and the Deep Space Optical Communication system – and boy, were they pleasantly surprised.

On April 8, 2024, the data arrived from 141 million miles away and downloaded at 25 Mps – far faster than the stated goal of 1 Mps.

Meera Srinivasan, the project’s operations lead at JPL, was obviously pleased.

“We downlinked about 10 minutes of duplicated spacecraft data during a pass on April 8. 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.”

Images and even a cat video had been transmitted that way previously, but Psyche was much closer to Earth at the time.

Though this is promising technology, JPL’s project receiver electronics lead Ryan Rogalin says there are kinks that need to be ironed out.

“We’ve learned a great deal about how far we can push the system when we do have clear skies, although storms have interrupted operations at both Table Mountain and Palomar on occasion.”

They will be testing the system again when Psyche is farther away – the maximum distance between Mars and Earth.

If it works, we may have established a data-intensive network between the two planets.

One more step in NASA’s desire to get astronauts there in the near-ish future.

If you thought that was interesting, you might like to read about a second giant hole has opened up on the sun’s surface. Here’s what it means.