Space exploration could lead to internet on Mars

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In an article written on ScienceNews.org, author Payal Dhar writes about the quest to establish a robust communication infrastructure for human missions to Mars being underway, recognizing the challenges posed by vast distances and time lags. While Wi-Fi connections to Earth’s internet are impractical due to the substantial distance of 55 million to 400 million kilometers, researchers are exploring alternatives. NASA’s Psyche mission, designed to explore an asteroid between Mars and Jupiter, incorporates laser communication, offering the potential for higher data transmission compared to traditional radio waves.

 

Current communication with Mars involves a Mars Relay Network, consisting of orbiters like Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. However, for future human missions, new strategies are required. Vincent Chan from MIT envisions on-the-ground communication using radio frequency and wireless technologies. Local communication could utilize mini cell towers for close distances and relays for greater distances.

 

The European Space Agency (ESA) is exploring the Mars Communication and Navigation Infrastructure (MARCONI) concept to enhance the existing relay network. MARCONI involves deploying communication- and navigation-related payloads into orbit around Mars, acting as nodes for radio communication. The use of laser communication is also being investigated, with potential improvements in data transfer rates.

 

NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) technology, tested on the Psyche spacecraft, represents a leap in long-distance laser communication, beaming data from 31 million kilometers away. ESA’s ScyLight program supports research on optical and quantum technologies for secure and fast data communication from space, considering the precision required for optical signals and potential interference from atmospheric effects.

 

To address the challenges of solar conjunctions and time lags, researchers propose an autonomous Martian internet. A team from Technische Universität Berlin envisions a constellation of 81 low-orbit satellites around Mars, similar to Starlink, providing planetwide internet coverage. This Martian internet, resembling Earth’s connectivity, could support various activities, from streaming content to scientific data uploads and downloads. The economic advantage lies in avoiding surface infrastructure and leveraging satellites in orbit.

 

Despite the futuristic nature of these proposals, planning for Mars communication infrastructure is deemed essential. While the constraints of physics prevent messages from traveling faster than the speed of light, overcoming technical challenges in communication could expedite future missions to Mars. Establishing an advanced infrastructure might lead to increased mission proposals and advancements in space exploration.

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