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NASA X-Ray Tech Could Enable Superfast Communication In Deep Space ( 58

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New technology could use X-rays to transmit data at high rates over vast distances in outer space, as well as enable communications with hypersonic vehicles during re-entry, when radio communications are impossible, NASA scientists say. The technology would combine multiple NASA projects currently in progress to demonstrate the feasibility of X-ray communications from outside the International Space Station. The radio waves used by mobile phones, Wi-Fi and, of course, radios, are one kind of light. Other forms of light can carry data as well; for instance, fiber-optic telecommunications rely on pulses of visible and near-infrared light. The effort to use another type of light, X-rays, for communication started with research on NASA's proposed Black Hole Imager. That mission is designed to analyze the edges of the supermassive black holes that previous research suggested exist at the centers of most, if not all, large galaxies. One potential strategy to enable the Black Hole Imager was to develop a constellation of precisely aligned spacecraft to collect X-rays emitted from the edges of those black holes. Keith Gendreau, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, thought of developing X-ray emitters that these spacecraft could use as navigational beacons to make sure they stayed in position relative to one another. The system would keep them aligned down to a precision of just 1 micron, or about one-hundredth the average width of a human hair. Gendreau then reasoned that by modulating or varying the strength or frequency of these X-ray transmissions on and off many times per second, these navigational beacons could also serve as a communication system. Such X-ray communication, or XCOM, might, in theory, permit gigabit-per-second data rates throughout the solar system, he said. One advantage that XCOM has compared to laser communication in deep space is that X-rays have shorter wavelengths than the visible or infrared light typically used in laser communication. Moreover, X-rays can penetrate obstacles that impede radio communication.
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NASA X-Ray Tech Could Enable Superfast Communication In Deep Space

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  • by chthon ( 580889 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2016 @03:04AM (#53382985) Homepage Journal
    also usable as a weapon when you are really desperate
    • > [x-ray satellites] also usable as a weapon when you are really desperate

      Exactly that! The hungarian jewish physicist-psychopath Ede Teller, the real-life Dr. Strangelove, tried to get Reagan's USA to build battle satellites, which would have used the explosion of a nuclear bomb onboard to generate focused x-ray laser (gamma-laser) beams coming out of about one hundred pre-positioned iron rods, used to shoot down that many hypothetical incoming soviet ICBMs in a single salvo. The USA even cancelled its

      • Reading these Apocalyptic Total Destruction stories is amusing. The theory that winning the overarching conflict by destroying them, all the innocents, and yourself is, of course, entirely self-defeating. But to claim that even dictatorial Communists would actually build a weapon to destroy Earth stretches credulity.

        Oh, wait. This is just a micro plot for a sad, miserable short story, truncated from the original planned novel when you ran out of words.

        Dammit, I fell for that again. I hate that.

    • Just hope the enemy thinks you aren't armed, until it's too late.

  • by Harold Halloway ( 1047486 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2016 @03:58AM (#53383065)

    The information won't get there any quicker; X-rays don't yet travel faster than light. Rather the technology will allow very high bitrates.

    Still, it's good news that we will be able to browse pr0n in space.

    • Yeah, my thoughts exactly when I read the headline. It sounds like "high-bandwidth, reliable" instead of "superfast" would have been more appropriate.

      But still, it's not like this is a tech site for nerds or anything. Gotta make it a bit more approachable for the less tech-savvy masses, so I guess we can give them a pass on the silly description, right?

      • To be fair, it may be possible to use X-Rays to transmit terabyte-speed data.

        That's fast. Data. Bandwidth. More Bandwidth!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The last data packet will get there faster. Any single bit won't get to the destination faster but the meaningful information will.

    • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2016 @04:59AM (#53383205)

      The information won't get there any quicker; X-rays don't yet travel faster than light.

      I think the idea is that the x-rays will allow us to see inside alien starships, to steal their FTL technology.

    • by quenda ( 644621 )

      The information won't get there any quicker; X-rays don't yet travel faster than light.

      Do you make the same pedantic comment every time somebody talks about "high-speed internet"?
      In communications terms, speed is bits-per-second. You are thinking of latency, not speed.

      • ISPs also describe their services as "unlimited", so I'm not so sure I'd use their marketing jargon as a good benchmark for accurate technical descriptions.

        • Also, while on earth the "actual speed" of each bit is actually irrelevant as long as at or around the speed of light, FTL information would be a game changer in space, no matter the bandwidth.
          (Of course, physics and all that, not a possibility as far as we know)

    • Wait, I thought Light was EM radiation. So confusing. Are X-Rays light, or EM, or is light EM, or when does EM no longer qualify as Light?

      Or is this all String Theory?

    • Also, far less interference.
    • X-rays don't yet travel faster than light.

      Yet? Are we expecting a change in the Universe Simulator light speed rule set?

  • It's the best of all technologies. One could then control the total radiation amount and focus or diffuse it as per needs. This is the obvious technology to use for interplanetary links. When it is implemented it will cause minor issues for astronomers and as such they will have to send future telescopes further and further to the edges of our solar system. A focused x-ray laser would actually be very safe.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The comment above makes no sense whatsoever; besides, we already have X-Ray Lasers, which still depend on Atomic Quantum-level transitions.
      The Future Tech will be Gamma Ray Lasers, that make use of Nuclear Transitions; some work on this was done at Livermore about two decades ago. They got around the inversion problem by having the neutral Hafnium nuclei very loosely molecularly bound inside a Plasma, and using two-stage Neutron-Gamma pumping. Unfortunately, no gain was seen, but they learned a whole lot ab

  • Will this help us against Ethereal mind control, Sectoid cheese, and Muton rushes? Great chips ahoy. []
  • The first message received was, "Don't let me leave, Murph!" in a douchey whine.
  • Nothing travels faster than bad news.
  • by teridon ( 139550 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2016 @09:01AM (#53383943) Homepage
    This system has been in development for quite a while.  This info sheet is from 2007:
  • Xrays do somewhat travel through water, maybe this could be used to communicate with a shallow submerged submarine too.
  • Moreover, X-rays can penetrate obstacles that impede radio communication.

    As well as the ones that facilitate it -- otherwise known as reflectors and collimators. As long as X-rays are so very difficult to collimate, they're going to be hard to use for long-range communication. And as long as it's difficult to make emitters or detectors with very high bandwidth, they aren't going to be worth a lot for any high-speed communication.

    Plus there's the whole radiation hazard thing. Not so relevant in space, but kind of a big deal here on DNA-factory-infested Earth.

  • OK, I get the part about X-ray comms. What I don't get is the need to deploy an X-ray beacon for the satellites to navigate. After all, there are already natural sources [] that can be used. The technology for using these sources is credible enough that real money and real hardware [] is being developed for it.
  • In addition to communicating with spacecraft during atmospheric re-entry, X-ray transmissions could also be useful for communicating with high speed aircraft such as the (rumored) Aurora hypersonic spyplane [] or SR-72 hypersonic UAV [].

Vitamin C deficiency is apauling.