NASA just sent back a video of cats from space using lasers

NASA just sent back a video of cats from space using lasers


A computer screen in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory mission support area shows Taters the Cat in the first high-resolution streaming video transmitted via laser from deep space.

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A laser communications experiment aboard NASA’s Psyche mission sent a video back to Earth from about 19 million miles (31 million kilometers) away — and the short clip shows a cat named Taters. It’s the first time NASA has broadcast video from deep space using lasers.

In the HD video, a playful orange tabby cat chases, of all things, the elusive red dot of a laser pointer as it moves across the couch.

Video of the cat was transmitted to Earth from an aeronautical laser transceiver as part of the Deep Space Optical Communications, or DSOC, experiment. This technology could one day be used to quickly transfer data, images, and videos as humans push the boundaries of space exploration by venturing to places like Mars.

The 15-second video was encoded using a near-infrared laser and sent from the Psyche spacecraft to the Hale Telescope at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory. The video was downloaded at the observatory on December 11, and each frame was streamed live at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

At the time of transmission, the distance between the Psyche spacecraft and the Hale spacecraft was 80 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. It took only 101 seconds for the laser to reach each Earth.

The laser can transmit data at 10 to 100 times the speed of conventional radio wave systems used by NASA on other missions. The technology demonstration is designed to be NASA’s farthest experiment in high-bandwidth laser communications, testing the transmission and reception of data to and from Earth using an invisible near-infrared laser.

“This achievement underscores our commitment to advancing optical communications as an essential component of meeting our future data transmission needs,” NASA deputy administrator Pam Milroy said in a statement. “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.”

Launched in mid-October, the Psyche mission is currently on track to take humanity’s first look at a metallic asteroid located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The spacecraft will spend the next six years traveling about 2.2 billion miles (3.6 billion kilometers) to reach its namesake, located in the outer part of the main asteroid belt.


Members of the Deep Space Optical Communications team watch the first video transmitted from space with a laser arrive on their computer screens on December 11.

But the Deep Space Optical Communications Experiment carries out a mission of its own during the first two years of the flight.

“One goal is to demonstrate the ability to transmit large-scale video over millions of miles. Nothing on Psyche generates video data, so we typically send packets of randomly generated test data,” Bill Klippstein, DSOC project manager at JPL, said in a statement. “.

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

The DSOC team collaborated with creatives at JPL’s in-house DesignLab when deciding which video they wanted to test across deep space.

The video, which was uploaded to DSOC before Psyche’s launch, also includes a graphic overlay showing Psyche’s orbital path, the dome of the Palomar telescope, and Taters’ color, reproduction, and heart rate.

“Despite transmitting from millions of miles away, it was able to send video faster than most broadband Internet connections,” Ryan Rogalin, DSOC receiver electronics lead at JPL, said in a statement.

“In fact, after the video was received at Palomar, it was sent to JPL over the Internet, and that communication was slower than the signal coming from deep space. JPL’s DesignLab did a great job helping us demonstrate this technology — everyone loves Taters.”

Aside from the widespread popularity of cat-related videos and memes, the decision to include a cat video at the DSOC event is also a nod to broadcast history. A cartoon figurine of Felix the Cat was used in experimental television broadcasts starting in 1928, according to NASA.

The latest successful test of the laser experiment follows DSOC’s Nov. 14 achievement of what engineers called “first light,” the feat of successfully sending and receiving its first data. Since then, the technology demonstration has only improved, showing capabilities such as improved signal resolution that is so essential when sending laser messages from space to Earth.

Laser-fast data downlink speeds are comparable to broadband Internet, and the DSOC team recently downloaded 1.3 terabytes of data in a single evening — compared to the 1.2 terabytes sent by NASA’s Magellan mission to Venus over four years in the 1990s.

“When we got to first light, we were excited, but also cautious. It’s a new technology, and we’re experimenting with how it works,” Ken Andrews, project flight operations leader at JPL, said in a statement. “But now, with the help of our colleagues at Psyche, , we are used to working with the system and we can hold on to spacecraft and ground stations longer than we could before. We learn something new during every push.”

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