Laser communication: NASA breaks a new record with a cat video – Journal du geek

In November, NASA broke all distance records in optical communications with the Deep Space Optical Communications experiment and wanted to use its laser transmitter to lay the foundation for a new means of communication for spacecraft. But it was just the beginning. The American agency has once again broken this distance record – and above all, it has managed to exploit the capabilities of its system to transmit a video… of an adorable little cat.

The latest record from the DSOC experiment last month was already very impressive; NASA had succeeded in establishing a laser communication channel between a Californian telescope and its transmitter at a distance of 100 m 16 million kilometers. A real technical masterpiece.

Unlike radio communication, which is much more permissive, laser communication actually requires this Aim at a highly precise point at a long distance, taking many parameters into account. We can specify the rotation of the Earth, the relative trajectories of the receiver and transmitter, or even the travel time of the beam. It’s a bit like throwing an arrow directly into the center of a target placed several hundred meters away from a moving vehicle.

With this new test, NASA has almost doubled that already impressive distance. The DSOC experiment transmitter has successfully established a connection to Earth 31 million kilometers.

267 Mbit/s at a distance of 31 million kilometers

But beyond the pure distance, this new experience confirmed one of the most important advantages of this type of communication: the river.

If NASA is putting so much effort into developing these platforms, it is primarily because much more data can be encoded in a laser beam than in a radio wave. Theoretically, this means a significantly larger range. This point was not on the agenda during the first test. Last November, NASA simply sent a few bits of data just to prove the connection had been made.

This time the engineers took the next step with a larger amount of data. The agency managed to transmit data approximately 267 MB per second – a speed that is faster than the download speed of most consumer Internet connections.

The engineers behind the DSOC also shared an interesting anecdote that clearly illustrates this point. After receiving the data, they forwarded it over the Internet to the Jet Propulsion Lab, a renowned NASA laboratory that plays a key role in the development of scientific probes and other spacecraft… and was that second connection significantly slower than the signal captured from deep space.

A cat video waiting for scientific data

Ultimately, this technology will allow spacecraft to transmit significant amounts of data, such as images or even videos, in very high resolution. A very exciting prospect for astronomers and planetologists. But at the moment there was no scientific data. And for good reason: the DSOC experiment is integrated into a machine called Psyche, which is scheduled to fly past Mars for the first time in 2026. However, she won’t have much to report until she arrives at her destination.

So the engineers took the opportunity to have a little fun; The data encoded in the laser beam represented… a high-resolution video of Taters, an adorable cat struggling with the red dot created by a laser pointer.

So at the moment the DSOC experience is a huge success. All that remains is to wait for this proof of concept to materialize and for this technology to be used in real missions.

In theory, the first use of this technology in an operational context should occur during the mission Artemis II. And ultimately it will make it possible Maximizing the scientific performance of increasingly sophisticated space probes, to the delight of the researchers.