Having Internet on Earth is fine, but wouldn’t it be cool to have Internet on future space trips? Yes, most likely none of us will live to see it, but that doesn’t stop NASA from already laying the groundwork so that our children or our children’s children can communicate with Earth millions of kilometers away.
A few days ago, the US space agency successfully tested space laser communication for the first time, managing to transmit a message across a distance of 16 million kilometers. This is no small feat; it’s a distance 40 times greater than the one between the Moon and Earth, marking the first instance of optical communications being sent across such a vast distance.
While radio waves have historically been used to communicate with distant spacecraft, higher-frequency light waves, like near-infrared, offer a broader bandwidth and a substantial increase in data transmission speed. This technology could be what we need to communicate with future bases on Mars without experiencing significant lag.
The test was conducted by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as part of the Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) experiment, where the successful establishment of the communication link is referred to as “first light.”
“Attaining first light is one of the many critical milestones for DSOC in the coming months, paving the way for faster data transmission speeds capable of sending scientific information, high-definition images, and streaming video in support of humanity’s next major leap,” states Trudy Kortes, Director of Technology Demonstrations at NASA headquarters.
The laser transceiver that made the connection is aboard the Psyche spacecraft, which is on a two-year-long technology demonstration mission destined for the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It made contact with the Hale telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California.