NASA Sends First Cat Video from Deep Space

n Members of the DSOC team react to the first high-definition streaming video to be sent via laser by the DSOC transceiver aboard the Psyche spacecraft, nearly 19 million miles from Earth, featuring a cat named Taters, on Dec. 11, 2023 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. NASA on Dec. 18, 2023, announced it had used a state-of-the-art laser communication system on a spaceship 19 million miles (31 million kilometers) away from Earth — to send a high-definition cat video. The 15-second meow-vie featuring an orange tabby named Taters is the first to be streamed from deep space, and demonstrates it’s possible to transmit the higher-data-rate communications needed to support complex missions such as sending humans to Mars. (Photo by Handout / NASA/JPL-Caltech / AFP)
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NASA made an exciting announcement on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) – they successfully used a state-of-the-art laser communication system on a spaceship that was 19 million miles (31 million kilometers) away from Earth. And what did they transmit using this advanced technology? A high-definition cat video.

The 15-second video, featuring an orange tabby named Taters, is the first-ever cat video to be streamed from deep space. This achievement demonstrates the possibility of transmitting higher-data-rate communications needed to support complex missions, such as sending humans to Mars.

The video was beamed to Earth using a laser transceiver on the Psyche probe, which is currently journeying to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter to explore a mysterious metal-rich object. When the video was sent, the spaceship was an astounding 80 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.

The encoded near-infrared signal was received by the Hale Telescope at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in San Diego County and then sent to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California.

“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.”

Traditionally, space missions have relied on radio waves to send and receive data. However, using lasers can significantly increase the data rate by 10 to 100 times, marking a giant leap forward for communication in space.

The ultra-HD cat video took 101 seconds to send to Earth at the system’s maximum bit rate of 267 megabits per second, which is faster than most home broadband connections.

“In fact, after receiving the video at Palomar, it was sent to JPL over the internet, and that connection was slower than the signal coming from deep space,” said Ryan Rogalin, the project’s receiver electronics lead at JPL.

So why a cat video? First, there’s a historic connection. When American interest in television began growing in the 1920s, a statue of Felix the Cat was broadcast to serve as a test image. Additionally, cats have claimed the number-one position in internet videos and meme culture.

The video clip, featuring Tabby, the pet of a JPL employee, was uploaded before launch. It shows Tabby chasing a laser light on a couch, with test graphics overlayed. These graphics include Psyche’s orbital path and technical information about the laser and its data bit rate.

While laser transmission has been demonstrated in low Earth orbit and as far away as the Moon, the Psyche mission marks the first time it’s been deployed in deep space. Aiming a laser beam from millions of miles away requires extremely precise “pointing,” which presented a major technical challenge for the engineering teams.

The technology demonstration even needs to compensate for the fact that, in the time it takes for light to travel from the spacecraft to Earth, both the probe and the planet will have moved. As a result, the uplink and downlink lasers need to adjust for this change accordingly.

This groundbreaking achievement by NASA opens up new possibilities for communication in space and brings us one step closer to future missions, such as sending humans to Mars. The successful transmission of a cat video may seem lighthearted, but it represents a significant milestone in our quest to explore the universe and expand our understanding of the cosmos.

Source: The Manila Times

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