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The Challenges of Interplanetary Deep Space Communications and Tracking

Hosted By: Optical Communications Technical Group

28 June 2021, 12:00 - 13:00 - Eastern Daylight Time (UTC - 04:00)

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Join the OSA Photonic Detection Technical Group and the OSA Optical Communications Technical Group for this webinar featuring Dr. Stephen Lichten of the Interplanetary Network Directorate at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This webinar will focus on how the Deep Space Network (DSN) communicates with and tracks spacecraft to the edge of the solar system and beyond -- two NASA spacecraft have now left the solar system and still are in communication with the DSN. Some of the special challenges for critical events like the recent Perseverance Rover landing on Mars will be highlighted.

Presently, deep space communications are done at radio frequencies; this webinar will address the physics and challenges of how the DSN reliably closes deep space links with very weak signals over interplanetary distances. The webinar will also address how the next generation DSN will be adding deep space optical (laser) communications, moving beyond the RF domain into a new regime of very high-rate data deep space systems with high powered lasers, optical assemblies, and superconducting nanowire single-photon detectors.

What You Will Learn:

  • Reliable deep space communication/navigation with spacecraft as far away as 20 billion km
  • Special communications and tracking challenges of precisely and safely guiding a large space vehicle, such as the Perseverance Rover, to the surface of Mars
  • Implementation of the next-generation Deep Space Network, that will incorporate deep space optical communications for very high data rates across interplanetary distances

Who Should Attend:

  • Researchers, scientists, and graduate students in photonics and optics
  • Engineers and researchers interested in long-distance free space telecommunications
  • Engineers and scientists interested in cutting edge deep space and planetary exploration technologies


About the Presenter: Dr. Stephen M. Lichten, Interplanetary Network Directorate at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Stephen Lichten has a PhD in astrophysics from the California Institute of Technology and has worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in space communications, tracking, and remote sensing for more than 3 decades. His group determined Earth satellite orbits for the first time to sub-cm accuracy in the 1990s, and he led GPS software deliveries to the FAA for reliable and accurate aircraft navigation. He also managed the Deep Space Network Technology Program Work Area for Tracking and Navigation for 15 years. Steve has led JPL organizations that have delivered dozens of science and communications payloads for missions to the Earth, Moon, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. He has authored more than 100 papers and has four tracking systems-related patents. He recently served as Manager of JPL’s Communications, Tracking and Radar Division for 7 years; in 2017 he joined the Deep Space Network Project and presently works in JPL’s Interplanetary Network Directorate Program Office.