The agency’s DSN provides critical communications and navigation services to many space missions, and it is being modernized to support many more.
The NASA Deep Space Network marks its 60th year on December 24. In continuous operations since 1963, the DSN has made it possible for NASA to communicate with spacecraft on or beyond the Moon. Dazzling galactic images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope, the latest science data sent back from Mars by the Perseverance rover, and historic images sent from the far side of the Moon by Artemis I they all reach Earth through networks. giant radio dish antenna.
During 2024, these and other historic contributions from the past 60 years will be celebrated by the NASA Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program, which manages and manages the ground-based facilities and services provided by the DSN.
More than 40 missions depend on the network, which is expected to support double that number in the coming years. That’s why NASA is looking to the future by expanding and modernizing this critical global infrastructure with new dishes, new technology, and new methods.
The DSN is the heart of NASA, it has the important job of keeping data flowing between Earth and space, said Philip Baldwin, acting director of the network services division for SCaN at NASA Headquarters in Washington. But to support our growing portfolio of robotic missions, and now the manned Artemis missions to the Moon, we need to pursue the next phase of DSN modernization.
Meeting Additional Requirements
Managed by NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California for SCaN, DSN allows missions to track, send commands to, and receive scientific data from distant spacecraft. To ensure that those spacecraft can always connect to Earth, DSNs 14 antennas are divided between three complexes equally spaced around the world in Goldstone, California; Canberra, Australia; and Madrid, Spain.
To ensure that the network can maximize coverage between multiple missions, schedulers work with DSN team members to secure network support for critical operations. For added efficiency, NASA has also changed how the network is run: With a protocol called Follow the Sun, each complex takes turns running the entire network during their solar shift and then hands over control to the next. which is complicated at the end of the day in that region in essence, a global relay race that takes place every 24 hours. The cost savings, in turn, help fund DSN improvements.
At the same time, NASA is busy making improvements to increase capacity, from upgrading and adding dishes to developing new technologies that will help support more spacecraft and dramatically increase the amount of data that can be sent.
One such technology is laser, or optical, communications, which enables more data to be packed into transmissions. Laser communications could revolutionize how NASA communicates on long-distance space missions, said Amy Smith, deputy project manager for DSN at JPL.
After successfully testing the technique in Earth orbit and out on the Moon, NASA is now using the DSOC (Deep Space Optical Communications) technology demonstration to test laser communications from greater distances. Aboard the agency’s Psyche mission, DSOC has already sent video via laser to Earth from 19 million miles (31 million kilometers) away and aims to prove that high-bandwidth data can be sent from far away on Mars.
NASA has proven that laser communication is possible, so now we are looking for ways to build optical terminals inside existing radio antennas, Smith said. These hybrid antennas can still transmit and receive radio frequencies but also support optical frequencies.
New technology is something that NASA and DSN have embraced from their inception. The roots of the network reach back to 1958, when JPL was contracted by the US Army to deploy portable radio tracking stations to receive telemetry on the first successful US satellite, Explorer 1, built by JPL. Days after the launch of Explorer 1, but before NASA’s launch later that year, JPL was tasked with figuring out what it would take to build an unprecedented telecommunications network to support future deep space probes. space missions, starting with the first Pioneer missions.
After NASA was formed in 1958, JPL’s ground stations were named the Deep Space Information Facilities, and they operated largely independently from each other until 1963. That’s when DSN and the ground stations were officially established. connected to JPL’s new network control center, which is approaching. completion. Called the Space Flight Operations Facility, that building remains the Center of the Universe where data from DSNs three global complexes flows.
We have six decades of driving technological innovation, supporting hundreds of missions that have made countless discoveries about our planet and the universe that inhabits it, said Bradford Arnold, deputy director for Interplanetary Network at JPL. Our amazing workforce that continues to drive innovation today forms a strong foundation upon which we can build the next 60 years of space exploration and scientific advancement.
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Ian J. ONeill
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
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