NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications experiment has achieved a major milestone by streaming the first-ever ultra-high definition video from deep space using laser technology. The video was transmitted from a distance of 19 million miles away, which is about 80 times the Earth-Moon distance. This achievement is part of NASA’s ongoing efforts to develop high-bandwidth video and data transmission capabilities for future human missions beyond Earth’s orbit.
NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy emphasized the importance of advancing optical communications to meet future data transmission needs. Increasing bandwidth is crucial for achieving exploration and science goals, and NASA is committed to further developing this technology for future interplanetary missions.
The 15-second test video was transmitted using a cutting-edge instrument called a flight laser transceiver. It took 101 seconds for the video signal to reach Earth, with a maximum bit rate of 267 megabits per second (Mbps). The instrument can send and receive near-infrared signals and used an encoded near-infrared laser to beam the video to the Hale Telescope at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in California. Each frame of the video was then sent “live” to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California for real-time playback.
The laser communications demo, which was launched with NASA’s Psyche mission on October 13, aims to transmit data from deep space at rates 10 to 100 times faster than current radio frequency systems used in deep space missions. As Psyche travels to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the technology demonstration will send high-data-rate signals as far as Mars’ greatest distance from Earth. This paves the way for higher-data-rate communications capable of transmitting complex scientific information, high-definition imagery, and video to support future human missions to Mars.
In addition to the technical achievements, the video transmitted from deep space featured an orange tabby cat named Taters chasing a laser pointer. The video included graphics illustrating various features of the tech demo and information about the laser and its data bit rate. This creative approach was aimed at making the event more memorable and engaging.
This milestone follows the achievement of “first light” on November 14, where the system demonstrated faster data downlink speeds and increased pointing accuracy during weekly checkouts. On December 4, the project achieved downlink bit rates of up to 267 Mbps, comparable to broadband internet download speeds. The team successfully downloaded a total of 1.3 terabits of data during that time, surpassing the data downlinked during NASA’s Magellan mission to Venus from 1990 to 1994.
NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications experiment is a significant step forward in advancing communication capabilities for deep space missions. The successful transmission of ultra-high definition video from such a vast distance opens up new possibilities for future exploration and scientific endeavors beyond Earth’s orbit.