Beam me an X-ray, Scotty!
We at Creative Electron are excited about where x-ray technology is heading outside of traditional applications. In May of 2019, the International Space Station was supplied with hardware to utilize X-ray as an alternative to radio technology in sending communications through the vastness of space. Why X-ray? Because radio waves can’t go the distance.
Basically, radio waves spread out from the source, so at a great distance they tend to diminish into the background noise. That’s where X-rays are different. This new technology keeps the projected energy into a compact beam. It sounds like a laser, doesn’t it? In a way, it is a sound laser. The X-ray beam carries the radio waves and allows a message to be sent and received through space. The theory is that with the placement of transfer stations (like beam pumps) the message could be sent lightyears away. Evidence has proven that X-rays exist naturally in space and the universe can be mapped using this technology!
Now, here’s the plan. The Modulated X-Ray Source (MXS) is a compact transmitter that will be mounted outside the International Space Station. The receiver for this experiment is already installed here on Earth. In fact, the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) has been gathering X-ray spectra from neutron stars since 2017, while also gathering data about the potential of using X-ray pulsars as navigational beacons in a sort of “Galactic Positioning System”.
These are not the X-rays we know. NASA researchers developed a more spaceflight-friendly X-ray generator that creates a huge stream of electrons that collide with the target anode and produce X-rays. The big difference is the ability to modulate an X-ray beam leads to data rates in the gigabits per second, greatly enhancing our ability to move data around in space.
The MXS source itself has a lot of potential applications beyond XCOM too, from cheap, lightweight, low-power medical imaging on Earth and in space, navigational beacons for spacecraft, and even advanced chemical analysis by X-ray spectroscopy.
So, the stage is set, and with hard work and ingenuity, we may be very close to being able to send a message into space. Imagine, E.T. may be able to call and let us know how he’s doing … and we could call him back.