DSN's experimental hybrid antenna tracks DSOC's laser downlink


Deep Space Station 13 (DSS-13) at NASA's Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex near Barstow, California – part of the agency's Deep Space Network – is a 34-meter (112-foot) experimental antenna retrofitted with an optical terminal. (the boxy device under the center of the antenna's dish).

Starting in November 2023, DSS-13 is tracking the downlink laser of the Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) experiment aboard NASA's Psyche mission, which launches on October 13, 2023. In a first, the antenna also synchronously received radio-frequency signals from the spacecraft while traveling through deep space on its way to investigate the metal-rich asteroid Psyche.

Figure A is a close-up of the optical terminal, which has seven segmented hexagonal mirrors that mimic the light-gathering apertures of a 3.3-foot (1-meter) telescope. As laser photons reach the antenna, each mirror reflects the photons and redirects them to a high-exposure camera attached to the antenna's subreflector, which is suspended above the center of the dish.

The laser signal collected by the camera is transmitted through an optical fiber that feeds into a cryogenically cooled semiconductor nanowire single photon detector. Designed and built by JPL's Microdevices Laboratory, the detector is similar to the one used at Caltech's Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California, which serves as the DSOC's downlink ground station.

Goldstone is one of three complexes that comprise NASA's Deep Space Network, which provides radio communications for all of the agency's interplanetary spacecraft and is also used for radio astronomy and radar observations of the Solar System and the universe. . NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the DSN for the agency.

More information about DSN is at: http://depspace.jpl.nasa.gov/.


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