Solid State Technology and Devices Seminar: Interstellar Mission Optical Downlink for Scientific Data: Issues and Challenges

Seminar | May 4 | 1-2 p.m. | Cory Hall, 521 Hogan Room

 David Messerschmitt, UC Berkeley, EECS Department

 Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS)

Current attention on near-term exploration of nearby star systems is focused on low-mass probes that can be accelerated to relativistic speed using propulsion based on a ground-based directed-energy beam. Such a probe has to have a low mass (gram-scale) and transmit with low power (mW-scale). Such a mission is worthwhile only if the collected scientific observations can be successfully downlinked to Earth. We describe a preliminary design for such a downlink from the vicinity of Proxima Centauri, undertaken in collaboration with Philip Lubin and Ian Morrison. We chose short wavelengths with a ground-based (km-scale) receive aperture. This might be the most challenging and ambitious communications link design attempted to date, and here we emphasize some “pain points” that may require new technologies. This talk emphasizes the optics and photonics aspects (as opposed to modulation and coding/decoding), in hopes of stimulating interest and activity in invention and development of needed new photonics capabilities. Further detail can be found in our preprint, which is available at, 510-642-3214