NASA’s Deep Space Network Upgraded

Goldstone dish
The iconic 70-meter dish, dubbed Deep Space Station 14, at Goldstone, California.
NASA / JPL-Caltech

A key piece of interplanetary communications infrastructure is getting an overhaul. NASA recently revealed how its venerable worldwide Deep Space Network (DSN) is upgrading as extra missions depart for factors throughout the solar system, and the way it will hold communications working sooner or later.

Established in 1963 firstly of the Apollo period, the DSN is made up of three websites, providing worldwide protection: outdoors Madrid, Spain; Goldstone, outdoors of Barstow California; and the one southern hemisphere website, in Canberra, Australia. If a spacecraft is anyplace within the solar system past Earth, it is virtually at all times in view of at the least one DSN website.

Each website is definitely a set of a number of radio antennas: one predominant 70-meter dish in Goldstone, three 34-meter dishes in Canberra and Goldstone, and 4 smaller dishes at Madrid.

Deep Space Network map
A map of the Deep Space Network’s distribution throughout the globe.

Generally, the DSN is supporting 39 missions throughout the solar system at any given time, with an extra 30 missions within the growth pipeline. As missions fly farther afield, knowledge charges come at a premium: For instance, typical data rates from Mars run at a median of 500 to 32,000 bits per second, roughly half as quick as a typical house modem. New Horizons had to relay data at a miserly 1,000 bits a second after its 2019 flyby of Arrokoth.

“Capacity is a big pressure, and our antenna-enhancement program is going to help that out,” says DSN Deputy Director Michael Levesque (JPL) in a current press release. “This includes the building of two new antennas, increasing our number from 12 to 14.”

One new 34-meter dish (DSS-56) went operational at Madrid in January 2021. The dish is an ‘all-in-one’ receiver and transmitter, able to spanning the total vary of communications frequencies, moderately than solely speaking to missions allotted to particular frequencies as previously. This skill is restricted to the brand new 34-meter dishes.

The staff additionally accomplished upgrades of the huge 70-meter dish at Canberra, the one receiver at the moment able to speaking to the Voyager 2 spacecraft, now greater than 127 astronomical units (a.u.) from the Sun in the direction of the southern hemisphere constellation Pavo, the Peacock.

DSS56 dish
The latest dish within the household: DSS56 at Madrid.
NASA / JPL-Caltech

Next up are deliberate upgrades for the principle Madrid and Goldstone receivers. These newer techniques can deal with a number of indicators on one antenna and break up them with a digital receiver, a useful functionality for monitoring, say, a number of missions at Mars.

New approaches have additionally streamlined sources obtainable to the DSN as effectively. For instance, previously, every website tended to function domestically; now, the DSN operates beneath a “follow the Sun” mantra, the place the day shift at every website controls the complete community, in a perpetual globe-spanning hand off.

“Each site works with other sites, not just during handover periods, but also on maintenance and how antennas are performing on any given day,” Levesque says. “We’ve really turned into a globally operating network.”

Future missions can also function different kinds of communications. For instance, NASA has examined optical laser line-of-sight communications on the LADEE lunar orbiter mission in 2014 and is planning several additional missions to check infrared laser relays.

Often, the very first indication we get {that a} Mars lander is alive and effectively is from the DSN, which you’ll be able to comply with live online.

Screenshot of Deep Space Network monitoring website
A screenshot of DSN Now reveals how the web site tracks the dishes and what spacecraft they’re speaking to.

It’s nice to see the enduring massive Deep Space Network dishes that guided Apollo crews to the Moon and again keep on guiding spacecraft, rovers, and finally people by way of the solar system.


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