Deep-Space Optical Communications (DSOC)
DSOC, short for Deep Space Optical Communications, is a NASA laser-based space communications program which is still in the development phase. By the time of its implementation, DSOC will operate at 10 to 100 times the speed of current RF downlink/uplink speeds. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) leads the project and aims to produce both a deep space optical transceiver and a ground station operating at 1550nm.
The DSOC program will contain a few key technologies. To minimize SWaP, it will contain a low-mass spacecraft disturbance isolation and pointing assembly. To achieve the desired 10 to 100 times greater link speed, DSOC will include a highly efficient laser transmitter and two photon-counting arrays for both the optical space transceiver and the ground receiver. DSOC’s Flight Laser Transceiver (FLT) and the accompanying ground-based receiver are the primary modules in the subsystem.
After validation testing in 2018 and 2019, the DSOC payload was planned to launch with NASA’s Psyche mission in mid-2022, which will study the asteroid “(16) Psyche” and give information about how planets and other astronomical bodies formed crusts, mantles, and cores. The DSOC payload’s primary purpose is to transmit the information obtained back to NASA faster than ever before, setting precedent for a new age of solar system exploration.  Some believe that this mission will spur on the use of optical communications technologies around Mars.  On February 28, 2020, NASA announced that SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket will be the launch vehicle for the Psyche mission.