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Daily News Analysis


25th November, 2023 Science and Technology


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  • On November 14, NASA picked up a laser signal fired from its Psyche spacecraft, currently over 16 million km away.


  • The Psyche mission is a NASA space exploration endeavor designed to investigate the asteroid 16 Psyche, a unique and intriguing metallic asteroid located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
  • This ambitious mission aims to provide insights into the origins and composition of planetary cores by studying an asteroid believed to be primarily composed of metal.

Mission Overview

  • Target Object: Named after the ancient Greek mythological figure Psyche, this asteroid is thought to be the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planetesimal. Its composition could offer valuable information about the interiors of rocky planets like Earth.
  • Scientific Objectives: The primary goals of the Psyche mission include:
    • Understanding the asteroid's metal-rich composition and its relation to planetary formation.
    • Examining the asteroid's surface and geology to comprehend its history and evolution.
    • Determining whether the asteroid truly represents an exposed planetary core, shedding light on the formation and differentiation processes in the early solar system.
  • Spacecraft: The Psyche spacecraft is equipped with various scientific instruments and systems to facilitate comprehensive observations and measurements. These include:
    • Multispectral Imager: To capture high-resolution images of the asteroid's surface.
    • Gamma-Ray and Neutron Spectrometer: To analyze the asteroid's elemental composition.
    • Magnetometer: To detect and study magnetic fields around the asteroid.
    • Radio and Laser Communication Systems: For transmitting data back to Earth.
  • Mission Duration:
  • Psyche was launched on October 13, 2023 to explore the origin of planetary cores by orbiting and studying the metallic asteroid 16 Psyche beginning in 2029.
  • NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) manages the project.
  • The spacecraft will not land on the asteroid, but will orbit it from August 2029 through late 2031.

About DSOC experiment

  • The recent development is part of NASA's Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) experiment, introducing near-infrared laser signals for spacecraft communication.

Importance of the DSOC Experiment:

  • Data Rate Challenges: Transmitting vast amounts of data from spacecraft situated at significant distances poses a challenge due to limitations in data rates. Current communication uses radio waves, but higher bandwidths are desired for increased data transfer rates.
  • NASA's Revolutionary Technology: DSOC pioneers the use of near-infrared laser signals for space communication. This innovation is comparable to the transition from old telephone lines to fiber optics on Earth, promising data rates at least ten times higher than current radio systems of similar size and power.
  • Benefits of Optical Communication: Using near-infrared lasers enhances data transfer rates, enabling higher resolution images, larger scientific data volumes, and potentially even streaming video from space.
  • Technical Challenges and Precision: Achieving successful communication involves extremely precise pointing. The spacecraft's transceiver and ground-based laser transmitter must precisely target each other, akin to hitting a small object from a considerable distance while it's in motion.
  • Significance for Future Space Travel: Improving communication technology is pivotal for humanity's aspirations of deep space exploration, including missions to Mars and beyond.
  • Complexities Involved: At the distance of Psyche from Earth, which takes approximately 20 minutes for near-infrared laser rays to reach our planet, both the spacecraft and Earth will have moved. Therefore, the lasers must aim not at the current positions but at the future positions of the spacecraft and Earth when the transmission reaches its destination.

About Laser

  • Laser, an acronym for "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation," is a device that emits coherent, focused, and amplified light through a process of optical amplification based on the principles of quantum mechanics.

Basic Principles of Laser:

  • Stimulated Emission: At the core of laser operation is the process of stimulated emission. When atoms or molecules in an excited state are stimulated by photons of the same energy level, they release photons in phase with and identical to the stimulating photons. This results in coherent light emission.
  • Population Inversion: To achieve stimulated emission, a population inversion is necessary, where more particles exist in an excited state than in the ground state. This condition is essential for generating laser light.

Components of a Laser:

  • Gain Medium: The active material within the laser system responsible for amplifying light. It can be a solid, liquid, gas, semiconductor, or even a combination of materials.
  • Pump Source: Energy is supplied to the gain medium to induce the population inversion necessary for stimulated emission. Common pump sources include electricity, light, or another laser.
  • Optical Resonator: This consists of two mirrors, one fully reflective and the other partially reflective, forming a resonant cavity. It helps to amplify the light within the gain medium through multiple passes, stimulating more emission and achieving coherence.
  • Output Coupler: The partially reflective mirror in the optical resonator allows a portion of the laser light to exit and become the laser output.

Types of Lasers:

  • Gas Lasers: Examples include helium-neon (HeNe) lasers, carbon dioxide (CO2) lasers, and argon-ion lasers. Gas lasers use a gas mixture as the gain medium.
  • Solid-State Lasers: These utilize solid materials such as crystals or glasses doped with atoms to generate laser light. Examples include ruby lasers, Nd:YAG lasers, and semiconductor lasers.
  • Semiconductor Lasers: Also known as diode lasers, they are small, efficient, and widely used in various applications, including telecommunications, barcode readers, and optical storage devices like DVDs and Blu-ray discs.
  • Fiber Lasers: Utilize optical fibers as the gain medium and are commonly used in telecommunications and materials processing due to their high efficiency and beam quality.

Applications of Lasers:

  • Telecommunications: Lasers are fundamental to fiber-optic communication systems for transmitting data over long distances at high speeds.
  • Medicine: Laser technology is used in surgery (laser surgery), dermatology (skin treatments), ophthalmology (vision correction), and various diagnostic procedures.
  • Industry and Manufacturing: In material processing, cutting, welding, engraving, and 3D printing, lasers play a crucial role due to their precision and ability to work with various materials.
  • Research and Science: Lasers are essential tools in scientific research, including spectroscopy, particle accelerators, and atomic and molecular physics.
  • Defense and Military: Laser technology is used in targeting, range finding, guidance systems, and defense applications such as laser weapons and countermeasures.


This achievement paves the way for a new era in space communication technology, enhancing our ability to communicate with spacecraft exploring the farthest reaches of the cosmos.


Q. The NASA Psyche mission aims to explore the asteroid 16 Psyche, believed to be an exposed nickel-iron planetary core. Discuss the significance of the Psyche mission in unraveling the mysteries of the solar system's formation and its potential contributions to scientific knowledge. (250 Words)