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NASA’s Psyche Spacecraft


NASA’s Psyche Spacecraft, currently journeying over 16 million kilometers away in space, recently achieved a ground breaking feat by successfully firing a laser signal at Earth.


GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. NASA’s Psyche Mission
  2. Significance of Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC)

NASA’s Psyche Mission:

  • Explore the asteroid Psyche, situated between Mars and Jupiter.
  • Psyche is a rare metallic asteroid, believed to be the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet.
  • Directly study a planetary core to gain insights into the formation of terrestrial planets like Earth.
Scientific Goals:
  • Determine if Psyche is a core or unmelted material.
  • Analyze relative ages of different regions on Psyche’s surface.
  • Compare elemental composition with Earth’s core.
  • Investigate whether Psyche’s formation conditions were more oxidizing or reducing than Earth’s core.
  • Study Psyche’s surface features.
Scientific Instruments:
  • Multispectral Imager:
    • Captures images across different wavelengths.
  • Gamma Ray & Neutron Spectrometer:
    • Analyzes elemental composition.
  • Magnetometer:
    • Measures magnetic fields; confirmation of a remanent magnetic field would support the asteroid’s formation from a planetary core.
  • X-band Gravity Science Investigation:
    • Studies gravitational effects of the asteroid on the spacecraft.
  • Deep Space Optical Communication (DSOC):
    • Tests laser-based communication technology for faster data transmission between the spacecraft and Earth, using near-infrared wavelengths.

Significance of Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC):

  • Introduction on Psyche:
    • Psyche is the first spacecraft featuring NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) transceiver.
  • Technology Overview:
    • DSOC Encodes Data in Near-Infrared Light Photons:
      • Departure from traditional radio waves for data transmission.
      • Uses near-infrared light photons for encoding data.
  • Enhanced Data Rates:
    • Data rates at least ten times higher than current radio systems.
    • Facilitates improved imaging, extensive scientific data transmission, and video streaming.
  • Faster Data Transmission:
    • Outperforms current space communication technologies reliant on radio waves.
    • Near-infrared waves offer faster data transmission capabilities.
  • Propagation Capabilities:
    • Radio waves excel in traversing various mediums and obstacles due to their propagation capabilities.
  • Limitations:
    • Near-infrared waves have shorter wavelengths compared to radio waves.
    • While useful for specific applications, they lack the penetration and distance capabilities of radio waves.
  • Ongoing Technological Quest:
    • Continued efforts to improve technology, addressing limitations in data transmission rates.

-Source: Indian Express

February 2024