NASA Uses Laser To Beam Cat Video From Deep Space

NASA has demonstrated the growing capabilities of deep space communication, amid growing numbers of space missions.

On Tuesday NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California announced it had streamed the first video from deep space back to earth, utilising a laser.

The ultra-high definition video, featured a cat named Taters, was streamed back to planet earth on 11 December from nearly 19 million miles (31 million kilometres) away by NASA’s laser communications demonstration.

The development marks a historic milestone in space communication, bearing in mind upcoming lunar missions, as the distance it achieved is nearly 80 times the Earth-Moon distance.

Members of DSOC team react to first HD video streamed from deep space.
Image credit NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Deep space video

The video saw the cat named Taters (owned by a JPL staffer) ironically chasing a laser point. No cats were harmed and Taters remained firmly on earth throughout the entire process.

The video can be found here.

The video had been blasted back to earth using lasers from NASA’s new Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) network.

The video had been uploaded to a spacecraft that boasted a flight laser transceiver.

This spacecraft was launched via SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on 13 October, as part of NASA’s Psyche mission to a unique metal-rich asteroid orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.

The signal took about 101 seconds to reach Earth, and the video was sent at the system’s maximum bit rate of 267Mbps (Megabits per second), although the stream rate varied a lot.

“This accomplishment underscores our commitment to advancing optical communications as a key element to meeting our future data transmission needs,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy.

“Increasing our bandwidth is essential to achieving our future exploration and science goals, and we look forward to the continued advancement of this technology and the transformation of how we communicate during future interplanetary missions,” said Melroy.

JPL said that its flight laser transceiver beamed an encoded near-infrared laser to the Hale Telescope at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California, where it was downloaded.

Each frame from the looping video was then sent “live” to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, where the video was played in real time.

Lunar, mars missions

JPL said that as Psyche travels to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the technology demonstration will send high-data-rate signals as far out as the Red Planet’s greatest distance from Earth.

In doing so, it paves the way for higher-data-rate communications capable of sending complex scientific information, high-definition imagery, and video in support of humanity’s next giant leap: sending humans to Mars.

“One of the goals is to demonstrate the ability to transmit broadband video across millions of miles. Nothing on Psyche generates video data, so we usually send packets of randomly generated test data,” said Bill Klipstein, the tech demo’s project manager at JPL.

“But to make this significant event more memorable, we decided to work with designers at JPL to create a fun video, which captures the essence of the demo as part of the Psyche mission.”

Humanity of course is soon to return to the moon, under NASA’s Artemis program, which seeks to establish a sustainable presence on the Moon by the end of the decade, before eventually journeying to Mars.

Nokia in October 2020 was chosen by NASA to build a 4G/5G network on the Moon.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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