NASA’s Novel Experimental Antenna Monitors Lasers in Deep Space

The article discusses the development of a hybrid antenna system that utilizes both optical and radio frequency signals for deep space communication. This powerful system is designed to receive signals transmitted via laser from deep space. The laser signal captured by the camera is passed through an optical fiber that feeds into a semiconducting nanowire single photon detector. This device, which is cryogenically cooled, has been designed and built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Microdevices Laboratory. The same device is also utilized at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California, which serves as the downlink ground station for the Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) project.

The hybrid antenna is a complex optical system, constructed on a 34-meter flexible structure. Using a combination of mirrors, precise sensors, and cameras, the system accurately aligns and directs deep space laser signals into a fiber that reaches the detector. The aim is for the antenna to be sensitive enough to detect laser signals transmitted from Mars, even at its most distant point from Earth.

The current antenna design uses a seven-segment reflector, essentially serving as a proof of concept. Future designs could potentially include a more powerful version with 64 segments, equivalent to a 26-foot (8-meter) aperture telescope.

The DSOC project is laying the groundwork for higher data rate communications, which will be essential for transmitting complex scientific data, video, and high-quality images from deep space. This technology will be crucial for future human exploration of Mars. The DSOC team recently set a record by streaming the first ultra-high-definition video from deep space.

The hybrid antenna presents a potential solution to the current lack of a dedicated optical ground infrastructure. The Deep Space Network (DSN) has 14 dishes spread across facilities in California, Madrid, and Canberra, Australia. The hybrid antennas could use optical communications for high data volumes and radio frequencies for less bandwidth-intensive data. This dual functionality makes the hybrid antenna a promising development in the field of space exploration.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *