Science and Exploration

Engineering An Interstellar Communications Network by Deploying Relay Probes

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
April 19, 2022
Filed under ,
Engineering An Interstellar Communications Network by Deploying Relay Probes
Sketch of a series of probes serving as repeater stations between the Solar System and Alpha Centauri. The probes emit diffraction-limited light beams carrying high bandwidth information, similar to fiber optic cables or satellite-based internet. Close probe spacing reduces bit-rate loss proportional to the square of distance between them

We develop a model for an interstellar communication network that is composed of relay nodes that transmit diffraction-limited beams of photons.
We provide a multi-dimensional rationale for such a network of communication in lieu of interstellar beacons.

We derive a theoretical expression for the bit rate of communication based on fundamental physics, constrained by the energy available for photons and the diffraction of the beam that dilutes the information by the inverse square law. We find that meter-scale probes are severely limited in their bit rate, under 1 Gbps, over distances of a light year.

However, that bit rate is proportional to the 4th power of the size of the optics that transmit and receive the photons, and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them, thus favoring large optics and short separations between nodes. The optimized architecture of interstellar communication consists of a network of nodes separated by sub-light-year distances and strung out between neighboring stars.

John Gertz, Geoffrey Marcy

Comments: Accepted for publication in Journal of the British Interplanetary Society (JBIS)
Subjects: Popular Physics (physics.pop-ph); Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Astrophysics of Galaxies (astro-ph.GA); Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM); Solar and Stellar Astrophysics (astro-ph.SR)
Cite as: arXiv:2204.08296 [physics.pop-ph] (or arXiv:2204.08296v1 [physics.pop-ph] for this version)
Submission history
From: Geoffrey W. Marcy
[v1] Thu, 14 Apr 2022 17:45:33 UTC (1,110 KB)
Astrobiology, SETI,

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.