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Interstellar communication: The case for spread spectrum

  • Author(s): Messerschmitt, David G
  • et al.

Spread spectrum, widely employed in modern digital wireless terrestrial radio systems, chooses a signal with a noise-like character and much higher bandwidth than necessary. This paper advocates spread spectrum modulation for interstellar communication, motivated by robust immunity to radio-frequency interference (RFI) of technological origin in the vicinity of the receiver while preserving full detection sensitivity in the presence of natural sources of noise. Receiver design for noise immunity alone provides no basis for choosing a signal with any specific character, therefore failing to reduce ambiguity. By adding RFI to noise immunity as a design objective, the conjunction of choice of signal (by the transmitter) together with optimum detection for noise immunity (in the receiver) leads through simple probabilistic argument to the conclusion that the signal should possess the statistical properties of a burst of white noise, and also have a large time-bandwidth product. Thus spread spectrum also provides an implicit coordination between transmitter and receiver by reducing the ambiguity as to the signal character. This strategy requires the receiver to guess the specific noise-like signal, and it is contended that this is feasible if an appropriate pseudorandom signal is generated algorithmically. For example, conceptually simple algorithms like the binary expansion of common irrational numbers like Pi are shown to be suitable. Due to its deliberately wider bandwidth, spread spectrum is more susceptible to dispersion and distortion in propagation through the interstellar medium, desirably reducing ambiguity in parameters like bandwidth and carrier frequency. This suggests a promising new direction in interstellar communication using spread spectrum modulation techniques.

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