NASA makes purrrr-fect deep space transmission of cat vid

Tabby footage crosses millions of miles and was still faster than most folks' home broadband

From the department of "what must the aliens think of us?" comes news that NASA has demonstrated its Deep Space Optical Communications experiment through the medium of a cat video.

The 15-second, ultra-high definition video of an orange tabby cat named Taters was sent back to Earth as part of the demonstration. It took 101 seconds for the video to reach Earth, with the system running at its maximum bit rate of 267 Mbps.

We shall obviously be adding this to our list of Register measurements: one Astro Cat = 101 seconds of data at 267 megabits per second.

The event took place on December 11 when Psyche, the spacecraft hosting the experiment, was 19 million miles (approximately 31 million kilometers) from Earth.

Cat video aside, the speed and quantity of data is a significant achievement. The team has ramped up the downlink bit rates and on December 4 demonstrated rates of 62.5 Mbps, 100 Mbps, and 267 Mbps. During that time, 1.3 terabits of data were transferred. To put that in context, NASA's Magellan mission to Venus managed 1.2 terabits during its entire mission from 1990 to 1994.

Typically, the experiment sends randomly generated test data. However, the onboard cat video was transmitted this time around – showing Taters chasing a laser pointer.

The plan is for the Psyche payload to continue transmitting data as the probe travels to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. In doing so, it will demonstrate high-data-rate signals as far out as Mars's greatest distance from Earth.

Bill Klipstein, the tech demo's project manager, said: "One of the goals is to demonstrate the ability to transmit broadband video across millions of miles."

Depending on the performance of your own broadband, you might think the demo has only served to show the limitations of terrestrial connectivity. After all, from 19 million miles away, it appears to run faster than this hack's broadband connection.

Ryan Rogalin, the project's receiver electronics lead, noted: "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."

There is work to do. While the team can lock onto spacecraft and terminals for longer than previously – long enough to send the all-important cat video – Ken Andrews, the project flight operations lead, said: "We are learning something new during each checkout."

We can just imagine the animated GIFs and memes the engineers have in mind for future spacecraft applications. ®

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