“Despite transmitting from millions of miles away, it was able to send the video faster than most broadband internet connections,” said Ryan Rogalin, the project’s receiver electronics lead at JPL. “In fact, after receiving the video at Palomar, it was sent to JPL over the internet, and that connection was slower than the signal coming from deep space. JPL’s DesignLab did an amazing job helping us showcase this technology – everyone loves Taters.”
There’s also a historical link: Beginning in 1928, a small statue of the popular cartoon character Felix the Cat was featured in television test broadcast transmissions. Today, cat videos and memes are some of the most popular content online.
Milestone After Milestone
This latest milestone comes after “first light” was achieved on Nov. 14. Since then, the system has demonstrated faster data downlink speeds and increased pointing accuracy during its weekly checkouts. On the night of Dec. 4, the project demonstrated downlink bit rates of 62.5 Mbps, 100 Mbps, and 267 Mbps, which is comparable to broadband internet download speeds. The team was able to download a total of 1.3 terabits of data during that time. As a comparison, NASA’s Magellan mission to Venus downlinked 1.2 terabits during its entire mission from 1990 to 1994.
“When we achieved first light, we were excited, but also cautious. This is a new technology, and we are experimenting with how it works,” said Ken Andrews, project flight operations lead at JPL. “But now, with the help of our Psyche colleagues, we are getting used to working with the system and can lock onto the spacecraft and ground terminals for longer than we could previously. We are learning something new during each checkout.”
More About the Mission
The Deep Space Optical Communications demonstration is the latest in a series of optical communication demonstrations funded by the Technology Demonstration Missions (TDM) program under NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and supported by NASA’s SCaN (Space Communications and Navigation) program within the agency’s Space Operations Mission Directorate.
The Psyche mission is led by Arizona State University. JPL is responsible for the mission’s overall management, system engineering, integration and test, and mission operations. Psyche is the 14th mission selected as part of NASA’s Discovery Program under the Science Mission Directorate, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, managed the launch service. Maxar Technologies in Palo Alto, California, provided the high-power solar electric propulsion spacecraft chassis
For more information about the laser communications demo, visit: