Orange cat Taters brings NASA closer to deep space

NASA has transmitted a cat video from 19 million miles away using laser communications. This is a world first and will enable further space exploration.

On December 11th, NASA accomplished a significant milestone in advancing space exploration beyond Earth's orbit. Scientists streamed a high-definition video from a record-breaking 80 times the Earth-Moon distance.

The star of the 15-second video is an orange tabby cat named Taters, the pet of a Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) employee, chasing a laser pointer. The overlaid graphics displayed the cat’s heart rate, color, and breed, along with Psyche’s orbital path, Palomar’s telescope dome, and technical information about the laser and its data bit rate.

The cat for this historical event was chosen not accidentally. The scientists' choice refers to a television test broadcast in 1928, which featured a popular cartoon character, Felix the Cat.

The test video from space was transmitted using a flight laser transceiver. It took 101 seconds for the signal to reach Earth at a maximum bit rate of 267 megabits per second (Mbps). The transceiver beamed encoded near-infrared signals to the Hale Telescope at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in California.

Each frame from the looping cat video was forwarded to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, where the video was played in real-time. The same video sent over the regular internet connection showed that the speed was slower than using the signal coming from deep space.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The transmission is part of NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) experiments that attempt to master optical communications beyond the Earth-Moon system.

“This accomplishment underscores our commitment to advancing optical communications as a key element to meeting our future data transmission needs,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy.

“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,” he said.

The experiments are part of NASA’s Psyche mission to reach the metal-rich asteroid Psyche orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.

NASA believes that the ability to send complex scientific information, high-definition imagery, and video from deep space will support the next giant leap in science – sending humans to Mars.

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