Exploring Iron Volcanoes on a Metal Asteroid with a Spacecraft that Speaks Using a Laser

A Journey to the Psyche

Once in orbit around Psyche, the observatory will spend 21 months orbiting the asteroid, studying the properties of this metal world, and mapping its surface. This will be the first time, ever, that astronomers and astrophysicists will have a chance to study, close up, a world made nearly entirely of metal.

On its way to its target destination (which orbits the Sun at a distance three times greater than does the Earth), the spacecraft will pass Mars in 2023, providing a gravity assist for the vehicle as it heads toward its target.

Is this is the Future of Communication?

As it orbits Psyche, the vehicle will communicate with Earth utilizing a laser, instead of radio. Mission engineers hope the Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) package will allow the spacecraft to return data to Earth much faster than would be possible using standard radio communications.

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If all goes as planned, the DSOC should be able to send data back to Earth at between 10 and 100 times the rate of traditional radio communications. Similar systems may, one day, be used to communicate with human explorers as they journey throughout the Solar System.

“I am thrilled that Psyche is getting to fly the Deep Space Optical Communications package… [T]he technology is mind-blowing and it brings out all my inner geek. Who doesn’t want to communicate using lasers, and multiply the amount of data we can send back and forth?” asks Lindy Elkins-Tanton, director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona.

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