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NASA's DSOC Milestone: First-Ever High-Def Video Streamed via Laser from Deep Space, Featuring Cat Named Taters

NASA's Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) experiment achieved a groundbreaking milestone on December 11, 2023, by beaming the first high-definition streaming video via laser from nearly 19 million miles away. The historic achievement was made possible by the DSOC transceiver aboard the Psyche spacecraft, part of a NASA technology demonstration aimed at advancing optical communications for future human missions beyond Earth orbit.

The 15-second ultra-high-definition video featured a cat named Taters, and it was transmitted through a cutting-edge instrument called a flight laser transceiver. The video signal, traveling at a maximum bit rate of 267 megabits per second, took 101 seconds to reach Earth. The DSOC team successfully sent the encoded near-infrared laser signal to the Hale Telescope at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in California, where it was downloaded and then streamed in real time to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy emphasized the importance of increasing bandwidth for future exploration and science goals, expressing excitement about the continued advancement of optical communications technology. The laser communications demo, launched with NASA's Psyche mission on October 13, is designed to transmit data from deep space at rates 10 to 100 times greater than current radio frequency systems used in deep space missions.

The video showcased various components of the tech demo, including Psyche’s orbital path, Palomar’s telescope dome, and technical information about the laser and its data bit rate. Taters, the cat, added a playful touch to the demonstration. Ryan Rogalin, the project’s receiver electronics lead at JPL, highlighted the impressive speed of the video transmission, surpassing many broadband internet connections.

The DSOC team has achieved several milestones since achieving "first light" on November 14, demonstrating increased data downlink speeds and improved pointing accuracy during weekly checkouts. The recent achievement of downlink bit rates comparable to broadband internet download speeds and the successful download of 1.3 terabits of data mark significant progress in the ongoing experiment.

The Deep Space Optical Communications demonstration is part of NASA's Technology Demonstration Missions program, supported by the Space Communications and Navigation program within the Space Operations Mission Directorate. The Psyche mission, led by Arizona State University and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is the 14th mission under NASA's Discovery Program.

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