Proxima Centauri

Away Team Tech: Proxima Centauri Interstellar Flyby Scientific Data Downlink Design

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
July 1, 2023
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Away Team Tech: Proxima Centauri Interstellar Flyby Scientific Data Downlink Design
Illustration of the phases of a flyby mission for a probe propelled by directed energy from the launch site. The goal is to reliably recover the collected scientific data at the launch site. — astro-ph.IM

Editor’s note: one of the prime interests in the Proxima Centauri system (in addition to its proximity to Earth) is the presence of at least one of three detected planets (Proxima Centauri b) in that star’s habitable zone. How would astrobiologists best use such a flyby mission and its ability to observe and send back data?


The design of a downlink communication system for returning scientific data from an interstellar flyby probe is reviewed in this tutorial white paper.

It its assumed that the probe is ballistic, and data is downloaded during a period following encounter with the target star and its exoplanet(s). Performance indices of interest to scientific investigators include the total launch-to-completion data latency and the total volume of data reliably recovered.

Issues considered include the interaction between the speed and mass of the probe and the duration of downlink transmission. Optical communication using pulse-position modulation (PPM) with error-correction coding (ECC) is assumed. A very large receiver collection area on or near Earth is composed of individual incoherently-combined diffraction-limited apertures.

Other important issues in the design including transmit and receive pointing accuracy and beam size and receiver field of view are reviewed. Numerical examples assume a mission to Proxima Centauri (the nearest star to our Sun) initially launched by directed-energy propulsion from the vicinity of Earth.

David Messerschmitt, Philip Lubin, Ian Morrison

Subjects: Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM)
Cite as: arXiv:2306.13550 [astro-ph.IM] (or arXiv:2306.13550v1 [astro-ph.IM] for this version)
Submission history
From: David Messerschmitt
[v1] Fri, 23 Jun 2023 15:21:57 UTC (690 KB)

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻