A Problem of Communication from the Red Planet

in stemng •  5 months ago

In my last post I made mention of the Curiosity rover, an SUV-size Mars vehicle that is currently exploring Mars and sending back scientific data back to Earth.

An artist impression of NASA single relay communication. By NASA ( [Public domain], from Wikipedia Commons

The Curiosity rover, made at a staggering cost of 2.5 billion vehicle has loads of high tech measuring and telemetry devices onboard. There is also at least 17 cameras on the rover. The cameras are there to send back images and videos of the Martian environment, both in colour and black and white. It also helps the drivers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to navigate the terrain without damage to the expensive machine.

One of the cameras, called the Mastcam, due to its placement on a mast has the highest resolution of all the cameras on board at 2 MP or 1600 x 1200 pixels. That resolution may seem like nothing when you consider that we have digital cameras with up to 120 megapixels or even cell phone cameras with six times the resolution of the $2.5 billion machine. But, take a moment and realise that the camera tech is more than a decade old. The process for scientific procurement started off in April 2004 and ended in November 2008. There is every likelihood the camera is a 2004 technology; it takes a long time to protect the camera and run tests so it can survive the harsh environment of space. The 2MP was the best that year could offer.

Also, the Mastcam can take high definition video of up to 10 frames per second (fps) at a resolution of 720p.

The other day I was watching a live broadcastof the moon landing of the Appollo 11 streamed on July 20th 1969, when a flat-earther or those set of people who disbelieves everything about science asked for a live stream of Curiosity rover's action on the Mars if it was really on the Martian environment. How can we have a live broadcast of an event that occurred nearly half a century ago and not has one that is happening now?

A little background of how communication work

Spacecraft in space communicates with people on ground or earth station through the radio waves. A radio wave forms the basic building blocks for communication, it is sinusoidal in shape and made up of peaks (highs) and valleys (lows).

A wavelength is a complete circle of high and low. The frequency of a radio wave is a result of the number of cycles made in a given second. For instance, a signal is said to be 1kHz (1000Hz), that means the signal undergoes 1000 cycles per second.

A signal, amplitude and frequency modulation. By Berserkerus [CC BY-SA 2.5], from Wikipedia Commons

In other to make regular radio waves carry information, we will have to alter some of its attributes. Sometimes, this involves changing with the peaks of the amplitude or the frequency. When the amplitude is the one that changes to accommodate the message we have amplitude modulation, but when the frequency change is the medium of encoding data, we have frequency modulation.

For example, to transmit a picture, the pixels of the images are mapped onto the varying amplitudes of a radio wave, with each peak of different value carrying a specific part of the image; it may be either the light or dark pixel which denotes the bright and dark side of the image. On getting to the receiver, it can then decode these different peaks and extract each pixel information which when stitched together forms a picture or video.

Due to the vast distance (the nearest distance following the elliptical orbit to earth is 33.9 million miles or 54.6 million kilometres) between earth and mars, the rovers use the assistance of two Mars-orbiting satellites Mars Global Surveyor and 2001 Mars Odyssey to communicate with ground station.

An artist impression of commerical communication on Mars with the help of a Mars relay orbitter [Public domain], from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Commons

The orbiters, which is close (about 250 miles or 400 kilometres) to the rovers will pick up the signal from the rover, amplify it and send it on the up to 200 million miles journey (320 million kilometres) to the earth station.

On earth, giant dish antenna measuring almost the length of a football field at 70m receives the signal for onward decoding and analysis. This transmission to earth is going to happen provided the Mars orbiter has an unobstructed line of sight path to the dish.

Why streaming video is not happening at the moment

The short explanation is that there is a limit due to the data rate capacity of radio waves. Presently, communication from Mars to earth is as low as 3500 bits per second to as high as 12,000 bits per second (1.5 kilobytes per second). Little wonder it takes up to 5 hours to transmit 60 megabits ( at a rate of 7500 kilobytes per second or 7.5 megabytes per second) of data.

Can't we transmit faster?

Oh yes, we can! But not with radio waves. You see radio wave has a range between 30Hz to 300 gigahertz. The shortest frequency wave is 300 GHz at a wavelength of 1 mm. Now, there is only some small amount of data that the bandwidth of this frequency can accommodate. In other to make it take more, we need to increase the frequency the more. If we increase the frequency of the signal, we have left the confines of radio waves and is now in the domain of the visible light!

In between infrared light and ultraviolet light lies the visible light.[CC0] , from Wikipedia Commons

The frequency of visible light can handle more data, but the problem is the beams from a laser is narrow and requires a super precise receiver to make that a reality. Though there is a way of making us have a video from Mars by stitching up multiple images; for example, this video shows a 3D motion pictures of made out of 33,000 stitched colourised photos extracted from real images of Mars.

But NASA has not given up on the idea of making use of the faster laser communication. On October 18, 2013, the NASA's lunar communication equipment was able to transmit data right off lunar orbit to earth at an extreme rapid data rate of 622 megabits per second (Mbps) or 77.75 megabytes per second (MB/s).

We are very near to transmitting live videos from Mars, with latency (delay) in the mix.

Maybe by then, my flat earth friend may finally be convinced that we have a rover named Curiosity on Mars!


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From my knowledge Curiosity is a NASA-made car sent for a Mars expedition. His mission was to look for possible microbes, early organisms of life, or water on the Red Planet.

Curiosity is a six-wheeled vehicle with a robot as a motion controller. But, according to the NASA site, Curiosity has a body part like a human. As:

Curiosity has a hand named turret. Its function is to bring drills, brushes to clean dust, ground shovels, cameras, and microbial researchers tools. With the researcher's tools, Curiosity can examine rocks, mineral deposits, and carbon compounds.

Like humans, the outer part of Curiosity's body has the ability to protect the vital organs on the inside, like brain computers. Even in the shape of a car, Curiosity's body is far from the surface. Thus, the cruiser car does not have to worry about his body will hit the rocks on the surface of Mars.

At the rear, Curiosity has a tailor-made power system. Function, the flow of heat throughout the body to keep the brain normal temperature than the temperature of Mars is very cold.

Curiosity has an antenna that functions like the mouth and ears. With this antenna, he can capture the sound around it and communicate to Earth.

Like humans, Curiosity has a brain. But not on the head lies, but on the body. In addition to the main brain, this cruiser also has a backup brain. And the functions of both are exactly the same as the human brain: track the level of health, temperature, and other features that support the life of Curiosity.

Curiosity has a head and neck that carries seven of the 17 camera eyes. With this pole, Curiosity has a view like a basketball player whose height is about 2.1 meters.

This explorers car has a laser nose on the forehead that serves to sniff the safety of an object on Mars. When Curiosity sees the rocks that he finds interesting, this laser will scan the surrounding vapors.


Thanks for the added extra information :)


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I've got a question for you @greenrun, do you know anything about the mars one mission that has been planned?
The reason I ask, is if the problem of getting communication from the red planet is a problem now what will it be like for these people who are planning on giving there lives up for a journey of a life time.

I know technology has gone a long way over the years and like you said in your post there is a lot fast ways to communicate but wouldn't it still take a long time to get the information on that voyage?
I know that they are giving up on their lives but wouldn't we need all the information they gather faster. I am guessing that they will plan on updating cameras and other technology when they are there right?

A lot of people in the past who I have talked to have said that it impossible to get to mars, but I am open minded. I would love to see a live stream from there, and maybe in my life time i will get the chance.

One large step for man one larger step for mankind.



I think the Mars One concept should allow the rovers to get enough information before heading out there. Going there, if ( a big if) they can get funding and enough workforce and expertise to build a craft that can somehow ferry them there is a big uphill task.

Other rovers in the future will undoubtedly be an upgrade to Curiosity regarding both hardware and software.

Four days ago, scientists discovered an organic material on Mars. That may be evidence of life on the Red Planet and raises hope for a possible life there.


If they have found methane like in that article you have provided the link too, then that is big news, this supports evidence that life was on mars doesn't it?
I have been reading the mars one news and with it been a private investor and they are having to raise 6 billion doesn't that mean the chances of them going to be slim to none.
I know nasa are thinking of sending man to and from mars in 2035 which is great news but if this private company is wanting to do it, there will be more risks don't you think?
I mean nasa has been going for many years, the research that supports their programs of space travel speaks for it's self. wouldn't these 100 people out of the 200000 be better waiting until we know more about the planet.
When the rovers go to gather information what will they do while they are there. there is some many variables that even the slightest error could make a massive difference in landing and killing the whole crew.
Thanks for replying back, I like talking about this kind of stuff with people it's sometimes hard to find like minded people. :D


The plan to raise such a considerable amount of money by a private firm running a project with so many unknowns do not look so good, but let's wait and see how it pan out.


Your right about the unknowns, I wouldn't want to risk my life on a prediction, not for the sake of been one of the first to walk on the red planet anyway.
I think its a clever and stupid Idea all rolled into one. like you said lets just wait and see. £6 billion is a lot to find.


Yeah, in the next 20 years I think space tourism will be a thing similar to booking flight to an exotic destination.


I'd like to book a ticket if that was the case, I think it would be a once in a life time thing to pay for but I would love to go.


Yeah, I'm afraid the first decade of such tourism the expense will be a little bit on the expensive side.

Communication is a problem today, but I am pretty convinced we will find a better solution very soon. We just need to be patient. First for waiting for the technology and second for getting the information of the present technology ;)


I'm sure too that the problem will be a thing of the past as a result of it being within the realm of things that science and engineering can fix.


I agree!

This is an eye opener on the dynamics of communication systems. Just learnt how communication works...

Well done @greenrun


Thank you for the kind compliment. Learning never ends and steemit makes it both educative as well as profitable :)


That's absolutely correct @greenrun

Live videos will really make a whole lot of sense. Atleast, it will silence a whole lot of doubters.

Though, its actually going to be interesting seeing happenings on the planet live. Nothing is impossible, i only hope they achievebthis in my generation.


I thought I've replied this comment. My network is playing tricks on me. What could silence everyone is space tourism. Once people can visit Moon much the same way we fly to China, the doubters will forever be silent.


lol.... quite true

Thanks for sharing this post @ greenrun....i have learnt a lot from this amazing article.....well done....pls help me checkout my post on my blog....thanks and remain blessed.


Thank you.

Hello @greenrun..

Sometimes when I read about space and activities of astronomers, I often wonder the extent they could go. This NASA machine that can be used to explore Mars, gathering and sending back scientific data is one of such giant exploits. I wonder who derives the machine or is it remotely controlled?


@eurogee of @euronation and @steemstem communities


It's controlled remotely from the JPL. It is a robot. Can do some functions already preprogrammed once it gets instruction to execute such.


Okay. Thanks for the clarification

What a beautiful findings...

Can't wait for the time when it would be possible to take videos of other planets, watching the happenings of other planets would take us closer than ever before. The millions of kilometers that separates us won't count any longer.

Scientist are great people, they all deserve our respects


I agree that the scientists and engineers do work very hard. Livestream would soon be a thing :)


Smile, can't wait.

my flat earth friend may finally be convinced that we have a rover named Curiosity on Mars

He will believe whatever he wants to believe, I am sure that when live streaming videos from Mars become a reality, they will start to say those videos are fake and filmed using a professional studio, or something like that.

Believing the Earth is flat nowadays is absurd, and it is a surprise to find people really supporting those theories.

The best way to finally put an end to those beliefs is space tourism, and take that people to space so they can see it with their own eyes.

Cheers @greenrun!


Space tourism will put an end to the speculations, conspiracies, and other things ongoing. You can't say the earth is flat if you looking down at its not flatness from space :)

Thanks for giving all the info and recently they launched something with the insight mission to reduce the communication problem hopefully that will be a success :)

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A lot of sciences on this article

But good write all the same @greenrun