Company’s deployable cover will protect critical “game changing” communications experiment during Psyche launch and in space
SEATTLE, September 9, 2020 — First Mode, a design, engineering, and technology development firm, today announced it has been awarded a subcontract from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to build flight hardware for use on the NASA Psyche spacecraft. The firm-fixed price subcontract has a value of approximately $1.8 million and is expected to last through June 2021.
“First Mode engineers are experts in designing for extreme environments, and with this Psyche mission subcontract we continue to take advantage of our rich history of contributing to NASA programs including Mars 2020 Perseverance and Europa Clipper,” said Maggie Scholtz, First Mode vice president of engineering. “This award recognizes First Mode’s engineering capabilities and shows confidence in our ability to execute at the level of rigor and reliability required for deep space missions.”
The Psyche mission is a journey to 16 Psyche, a giant metal asteroid orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. What makes 16 Psyche unique is that it appears to be the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet, believed to be one of the building blocks of our solar system. The Psyche mission is readying for launch in 2022, and after executing a Mars flyby in 2023, the spacecraft will arrive at 16 Psyche in early 2026.
DEPLOYABLE COVER WILL PROTECT LASER COMMUNICATION EXPERIMENT
The First Mode flight hardware currently in development — a deployable aperture cover — will shield the Psyche mission Deep Space Optical Communication (DSOC) technology demonstration from contamination and debris during launch, and in the extreme environment of deep space. The cover will permanently open early in the Psyche mission to enable DSOC operations, which will test new communication hardware that uses lasers instead of radio waves.
The DSOC technology demonstration uses photons, the fundamental particle of visible light, to transmit more data in a given amount of time. The standard way to “talk” to spacecraft has been with radio waves. But optical communications, in which data is beamed over laser light, can increase that rate by as much as 10 to 100 times over conventional means.
Advantages offered by laser communications are expected to revolutionize future space endeavors, including eventual communication with people in deep space, and setting up telecommunications infrastructure around Mars.
First Mode is in the prototype-development phase to inform the final hardware design before building, testing, and delivering its deployable cover to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in early 2021. The company’s work on the Psyche mission is supported by an expanded manufacturing facility including a clean room, environmental testing equipment, mechanical shop, electrical fabrication, and large-scale assembly areas.
The Psyche mission is led by Arizona State University with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory responsible for mission management, operations, and navigation. For more information about NASA’s Psyche mission go to: http://www.nasa.gov/psyche
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