If aliens had intercepted NASA’s space-laser communications earlier this month, they would’ve been scratching their heads over footage of a fat orange cat chasing a laser around a grey couch.
NASA used the charming cat video to test a cutting-edge laser technology that could revolutionize the way it communicates with spacecraft and astronauts in deep space.
Speeding up messages from deep space to Earth, and vice versa, as well as increasing bandwidth, is crucial to NASA’s plans to send astronauts to Mars.
This is the first ultra-HD video ever streamed from deep space via laser, according to NASA.
Watch NASA’s ultra-HD, deep-space-laser-beamed cat video
On December 11, NASA used lasers to stream this 15-second clip of an employee’s cat, named Taters, to Earth from a spacecraft about 19 million miles away. That’s 80 times the distance of the moon.
It took just 101 seconds for the ultra-high definition video to travel that distance, streaming at 267 megabits per second (Mbps).
“Despite transmitting from millions of miles away, it was able to send the video faster than most broadband internet connections,” Ryan Rogalin, who leads the project’s receiver electronics at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a press release.
“In fact, after receiving the video at Palomar [Observatory], it was sent to JPL over the internet, and that connection was slower than the signal coming from deep space,” he added.
That’s a major new milestone for the “Deep Space Optical Communications” experiment, which is flying aboard NASA’s Psyche spacecraft to test the new laser technology.
The graphics overlaid on the video include Psyche’s orbital trajectory, technical information about the laser and data transmission rates, as well as Taters’s color and breed, heart rate and the Palomar Telescope dome that received the California video.
How deep-space laser communication works
A powerful laser signal emanating from JPL’s Table Mountain Facility in California acts as a beacon to help Psyche aim its transmitter.
The spacecraft then uses its laser to beam information to Earth, which is picked up and downloaded by the Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory in San Diego County.
Every frame in the Monday video was then sent “live” to the Jet Propulsion Lab and the video proceeded to play in real time, NASA said.
Optical communication employs the same technology used in fiber-optic internet. The light signal may travel at the same rate as radio waves, but has the ability to communicate more information, which could prove useful in future downloads and uploads of high-bandwidth material, as Business Insider’s Marianne Guenot previously reported.
The experiment achieved “first light” on November 14, beaming a message from about 10 million miles away in just 50 seconds. It has slowly been increasing its data downlink speeds until it matched broadband internet on December 4.
“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 NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy in the press release.