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DSOC: The Future Of Space Communication Systems

Optical communication systems are in the process of revolutionizing the spread of information across various aerospace applications thanks to their unparalleled advantages over radio communication.


With the ever-increasing demand for transmitting greater quantities of data over longer distances, radio technology is rapidly being replaced by laser signals. While both lasers and radio signals are examples of the same phenomenon of electromagnetic radiation, optical communication allows for clearer and faster data transmission.


Constantly proving a more reliable communication method with a recent history of success in NASA missions since 2013, optical communication systems are underway to become the standard for aerospace applications reaching beyond the Earth-Moon system into the deeper bounds of our solar system.


As NASA constantly pushes for more in-depth exploration of our solar system, optical communication represents untapped potential for improved communication across greater distances. The first successful display of this technology by NASA occurred in 2013 when the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration made history by transmitting data from lunar orbit to Earth at six times the rate of prior radio technology.


Representing only a partial example of such technology, the rate of data transmission allowed by current radio bandwidth limits may be amplified up to ten times. With such power and success, current developments are underway to launch the first Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) system. This experiment will take this two-way laser technology past the Moon, to Mars, and beyond.


A basic optical communication system comprises a transmitter and a transceiver for the laser signal. Currently, NASA’s on-the-ground locations include strategically placed Optical Ground Stations (OGS) in California and Hawaii, where data is received, adapted, and interpreted for future endeavours.


Both radios and lasers rely on the emission of electromagnetic waves; however, the area across which optical signals travel from the transmitter to the transceiver is significantly smaller than the area covered by typical satellite radio systems, allowing less room for interference. This being said, because of the visual, rather than auditory, nature of optical communications, the main concern for such technology is maintaining a clear signal without light interference from clouds or other disruptive forces in deep space.


NASA will be implementing its first DSOC system aboard the Psyche mission, an unmanned spacecraft scheduled for a delayed launch in October 2023. With the purpose of exploring an asteroid of the same name, Psyche will enter the orbit of this asteroid by August 2029, where it will map and study the core of the Asteroid Psyche.


Scientists believe the asteroid's core is planetesimal, a substance found in the interiors of terrestrial planets such as Earth. Given the distance between Asteroid Psyche and Earth, this mission will rely on DSOC as a faster and clearer form of data communication than previous missions reaching this far into space. With unprecedented missions, the successful implementation of optical communications so deep into our solar system could expand the bounds of NASA’s missions exponentially.


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Tags: #space #NASA #laser #deepspaceopticalcommunications


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