DEC 26, 2023 6:00 AM PST

Cat in Space: NASA's Psyche Mission Transmits Taters' Video from Record Distance

As NASA’s Psyche mission continues its 2.2 billion-mile (3.6 billion-kilometer) journey to asteroid 16 Psyche orbiting within the asteroid belt, the approximate $1.2 billion mission carries a suite of instruments designed to investigate 16 Psyche in every aspect during the mission. One of these experiments is not like the others, as it also carries NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) experiment, which is an advanced laser (optical) communication system designed to transmit far more data than traditional radio frequency communications systems.

Image of DSOC team members at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory seen reacting to the first high-definition streaming video to be sent via laser (optical) communications from deep space on Dec. 11, 2023. The video was sent by the DSOC transceiver onboard NASA’s Psyche spacecraft from a distance almost 19 million miles from Earth featuring a cat named Taters. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

In a groundbreaking demonstration, NASA recently used DSOC to transmit a video of a cat named Taters from 19 million miles (31 million kilometers) from Earth, marking the first time DSOC has been used beyond the Earth-Moon system. In this short, 24-second video, Taters doing what cats do best: chasing a laser pointer around a couch, albeit with “THIS IS A TEST” across the screen and other graphics within the video that can be read more in-depth here.

“One of the goals is to demonstrate the ability to transmit broadband video across millions of miles,” said Bill Klipstein, the tech demonstration’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Nothing on Psyche generates video data, so we usually send packets of randomly generated test data. But to make this significant event more memorable, we decided to work with designers at JPL to create a fun video, which captures the essence of the demo as part of the Psyche mission.”

While this demonstration is an extraordinary breakthrough, this is not the first time that laser communications have been tested on space missions. In 2013, NASA’s LADEE spacecraft took part in NASA’s Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD), which tested uplink and downlink rates between the Earth and the Moon. Additional tests included NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) from geostationary orbit in 2021, and NASA’s TeraByte InfraRed Delivery system from low-Earth orbit in 2022.

How will laser communications help with transmitting data from deep space missions in the coming years and decades? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

Sources: NASA JPL, NASA, NASA JPL (1), NASA JPL (2), NASA (1), NASA (2)

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of "Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey".
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