NASA’s Deep Space Network is Getting an Upgrade

NASA is upgrading its Deep Space Network in order to make it possible for humans to land on Mars.

NASA’s Deep Space Network is Getting an As NASA prepares to take mankind into a new era of space exploration, the agency is upgrading its Deep Space Network.

NASA has begun building a new 34-meter antenna for its deep-space communications (DSN) system that incorporates laser links with future robotic or manned space missions. The new upgrade is expected to serve as another tool for future Moon and Mars missions.

The new Deep Space Antenna, which is being set up at the Goldstone station in the California desert, fits into a future in which more missions will require advanced technology, such as lasers capable of transmitting large amounts of data to the lunar and Martian surface.

Using massive antennas, the agency communicates with more than 30 missions in deep space on a given day, including many international missions. As more missions have been launched and more in process, NASA is looking to strengthen the network.

An image of the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, ACT, Australia. Shutterstock.
An image of the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, ACT, Australia. Shutterstock.

When completed, in 2 and a half years, the new antenna will be dubbed Deep Space Station-23 (DSS-23), which will bring the number of operating antennas of the Deep Space Network to 13.

“Since the 1960s, when the world first watched live pictures of humans in space and on the Moon, to revealing imagery and scientific data from the surface of Mars and vast, distant galaxies, the Deep Space Network has connected humankind with our solar system and beyond,” explained Badri Younes, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for Space Communications and Navigation, or SCaN, which oversees NASA’s networks.

“This new antenna, the fifth of six currently planned, is another example of NASA’s determination to enable science and space exploration through the use of the latest technology.”

Managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the deep space network is grouped into three locations: Goldstone, California; Madrid, Spain; and Canberra, Australia, which are placed approximately 120 degrees away from around the world to allow continuous contact with the spacecraft as the Earth rotates. This allows scientists to maintain contact with spacecraft around the clock.

Check out this live tool which lets viewers see which DSN dishes are sending up commands or receiving data at any given time.

The new addition to Goldstone since 2003, the dish is being built at the complex’s Apollo site, so named because its DSS-16 antenna helped NASA’s human missions to the Moon. Comparable antennas have been created in recent years in Canberra, while two are under development in Madrid.

“The DSN is Earth’s one phone line to our two Voyager spacecraft – both in interstellar space – all our Mars missions and the New Horizons spacecraft that is now far past Pluto,” said JPL Deputy Director Larry James.

“The more we explore, the more antennas we need to talk to all our missions.”

As revealed by NASA, even though DSS-23 will function primarily as a radio antenna, it will also be outfitted with mirrors and a unique receiver for lasers beamed from distant spacecraft.

Experts say that such technologies are crucial in order to help get astronauts to Mars.

Humans in distant places like Mars will need to communicate with Earth more frequently than NASA’s robotic explorers do. Furthermore, a base on the surface of Mars with its life support systems and equipment would buzz with data that needs to be controlled, so upgrading our technology is an essential part of making “traveling to Mars” a reality and success.

“Lasers can increase your data rate from Mars by about 10 times what you get from radio,” said Suzanne Dodd, director of the Interplanetary Network, the organization that manages the DSN.

“Our hope is that providing a platform for optical communications will encourage other space explorers to experiment with lasers on future missions.”

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