24/7 Space News
TECH SPACE
NASA's New Experimental Antenna Tracks Deep Space Laser
Deep Space Station 13 at NASA's Goldstone complex in California - part of the agency's Deep Space Network - is an experimental antenna that has been retrofitted with an optical terminal. In a first, this proof of concept received both radio frequency and laser signals from deep space at the same time.
ADVERTISEMENT
NASA's New Experimental Antenna Tracks Deep Space Laser
by Staff Writers
Pasadena CA (JPL) Feb 12, 2024

An experimental antenna has received both radio frequency and near-infrared laser signals from NASA's Psyche spacecraft as it travels through deep space. This shows it's possible for the giant dish antennas of NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN), which communicate with spacecraft via radio waves, to be retrofitted for optical, or laser, communications.

By packing more data into transmissions, optical communication will enable new space exploration capabilities while supporting the DSN as demand on the network grows.

The 34-meter (112-foot) radio-frequency-optical-hybrid antenna, called Deep Space Station 13, has tracked the downlink laser from NASA's Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) technology demonstration since November 2023. The tech demo's flight laser transceiver is riding with the agency's Psyche spacecraft, which launched on Oct. 13, 2023.

The hybrid antenna is located at the DSN's Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex, near Barstow, California, and isn't part of the DSOC experiment. The DSN, DSOC, and Psyche are managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

"Our hybrid antenna has been able to successfully and reliably lock onto and track the DSOC downlink since shortly after the tech demo launched," said Amy Smith, DSN deputy manager at JPL. "It also received Psyche's radio frequency signal, so we have demonstrated synchronous radio and optical frequency deep space communications for the first time."

In late 2023, the hybrid antenna downlinked data from 20 million miles (32 million kilometers) away at a rate of 15.63 megabits per second - about 40 times faster than radio frequency communications at that distance. On Jan. 1, 2024, the antenna downlinked a team photograph that had been uploaded to DSOC before Psyche's launch.

Two for One
In order to detect the laser's photons (quantum particles of light), seven ultra-precise segmented mirrors were attached to the inside of the hybrid antenna's curved surface. Resembling the hexagonal mirrors of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, these segments mimic the light-collecting aperture of a 3.3-foot (1-meter) aperture telescope. As the laser photons arrive at the antenna, each mirror reflects the photons and precisely redirects them into a high-exposure camera attached to the antenna's subreflector suspended above the center of the dish.

The laser signal collected by the camera is then transmitted through optical fiber that feeds into a cryogenically cooled semiconducting nanowire single photon detector. Designed and built by JPL's Microdevices Laboratory, the detector is identical to the one used at Caltech's Palomar Observatory, in San Diego County, California, which acts as DSOC's downlink ground station.

"It's a high-tolerance optical system built on a 34-meter flexible structure," said Barzia Tehrani, communications ground systems deputy manager and delivery manager for the hybrid antenna at JPL. "We use a system of mirrors, precise sensors, and cameras to actively align and direct laser from deep space into a fiber reaching the detector."

Tehrani hopes the antenna will be sensitive enough to detect the laser signal sent from Mars at its farthest point from Earth (2 0.5 times the distance from the Sun to Earth). Psyche will be at that distance in June on its way to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter to investigate the metal-rich asteroid Psyche.

The seven-segment reflector on the antenna is a proof of concept for a scaled-up and more powerful version with 64 segments - the equivalent of a 26-foot (8-meter) aperture telescope - that could be used in the future.

An Infrastructure Solution
DSOC is paving the way for higher-data-rate communications capable of transmitting complex scientific information, video, and high-definition imagery in support of humanity's next giant leap: sending humans to Mars. The tech demo recently streamed the first ultra-high-definition video from deep space at record-setting bitrates.

Retrofitting radio frequency antennas with optical terminals and constructing purpose-built hybrid antennas could be a solution to the current lack of a dedicated optical ground infrastructure. The DSN has 14 dishes distributed across facilities in California, Madrid, and Canberra, Australia. Hybrid antennas could rely on optical communications to receive high volumes of data and use radio frequencies for less bandwidth-intensive data, such as telemetry (health and positional information).

"For decades, we have been adding new radio frequencies to the DSN's giant antennas located around the globe, so the most feasible next step is to include optical frequencies," said Tehrani. "We can have one asset doing two things at the same time; converting our communication roads into highways and saving time, money, and resources."

Related Links
NASA's optical communications
Space Technology News - Applications and Research

Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters

RELATED CONTENT
The following news reports may link to other Space Media Network websites.
TECH SPACE
L3Harris Demonstrates Advanced SATCOM Prototype, Enhancing Satellite Data Access
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Feb 08, 2024
L3Harris Technologies has recently concluded a pivotal demonstration of its Digital Beamforming Phased Array Antenna System (DPAAS) prototype, marking a significant advancement in satellite communications (SATCOM) technology. This prototype, stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska, has demonstrated a remarkable capability to handle an average of more than 300 satellite contacts per day, including the capacity for up to eight simultaneous contacts. This development is a stark departure from traditional SATC ... read more

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
TECH SPACE
NASA Solar Sail Technology Passes Crucial Deployment Test

Virgin Galactic Marks 11th Spaceflight with Full Passenger Manifest

Starlab Space unveils leadership team to propel space exploration ventures

Third NASA Enabled Private Flight to Space Station Completes Safely

TECH SPACE
Macau's firecracker free-for-all sparks joy for New Year celebrants

MITRE and MDC team up to advance at Midland Spaceport

SpaceX Expands Global Internet Coverage with 22 New Starlink Satellites

Dream Chaser Spaceplane Undergoes Extreme Testing at NASA's Armstrong Facility

TECH SPACE
Confirmation of ancient lake on Mars builds excitement for Perseverance rover's samples

NASA helicopter's mission ends after three years on Mars

New Year, New images from Perseverance on Mars

Polka Dots and Sunbeams: Sol 4078

TECH SPACE
BIT advances microbiological research on Chinese Space Station

Shenzhou 18 and 19 crews undertake intensive training for next missions

Space Pioneer and LandSpace Lead China's Private Sector to New Heights in Space

Tianzhou 6 burns up safely reentering Earth

TECH SPACE
Into the Starfield

Sidus ships LizzieSat to Vandenberg for upcoming SpaceX launch

Next-generation satellite systems propel shift in capacity pricing and industry dynamics

AST SpaceMobile's Space-Based Cellular Network to Support Government Missions Through New Contract

TECH SPACE
NASA's New Experimental Antenna Tracks Deep Space Laser

Green steel from toxic red mud

DLR develops mobile station for Satellite Laser Ranging

Benchtop test quickly identifies extremely impact-resistant materials

TECH SPACE
UC Irvine-led team unravels mysteries of planet formation and evolution in distant solar system

NASA's Hubble Finds Water Vapor in Small Exoplanet's Atmosphere

Carbon Monoxide Dynamics Offer New Insights into Exoplanet Habitability

What Kind of World is LHS 1140b

TECH SPACE
NASA invites public to dive into Juno's Spectacular Images of Io

Europa Clipper gears up with full instrument suite onboard

New images reveal what Neptune and Uranus really look like

Researchers reveal true colors of Neptune, Uranus

Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters


ADVERTISEMENT



The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2023 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.