11:28 08th Sep, 2015
NASA’s New Horizons Begins Data Downlink Phase At 1-4 Kilobits Per Second
Not fast for your home network, but it is as fast as it gets for a space network.
After making that epic flyby, giving us our first image of the dwarf planet Pluto, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has now moved on and started sending data back to earth. The intensive data downlink phase, as NASA calls it gives the spacecraft commands to prioritize data uploads, as it drifts farther away from the earth into the vastness of space.
Downloading this data is a big deal and requires a lot of patience, patience that NASA’s scientists have (the preparations for the mission began in the early 90s).
This is not because of the vastness of data that goes into tens of gigabits, but because of low speeds of NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN), one that the ISRO’s Mangalyaan mission also utilizes.
Until the 5th of September, all the data collected was simply being prepared for the massive downlink operation. Now that the lengthy process has begun, NASA will begin receiving all of it at a speed of 1-4 kilobits per second. Even if the data travelled at light speeds, it would still take 4-5 hours for that one bit of data to reach Earth, which is about 3 billion miles away. This is not factoring other technicalities like the speed at which New Horizons is travelling at, which is said to be around 50,000 km/h (and you thought hooking on to a 3G network in the train was impossible).
What does all of this data contain? Well, it contains a lot of information, including high-res imagery of its terrain, spectra, and other data types that will help scientists figure out the evolution of the dwarf planet and its many moons.
How long will it take to download all of this data? If all goes well, scientists could expect the entire download to be in place by late 2016. Reminds us of that slow torrent which takes weeks to download at the slowest possible speed, thanks to limited seeders.
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