Have you ever wondered how we communicate with our manned and unmanned spacecraft? We are still in the early stages of space communication, but we have a system that has been working well for over 50 years. Read on to learn more about this system.
What is the DSN?
The Deep Space Network (DSN) is under control and monitored by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The DSN is made of antennas strategically placed around Earth at 120 degrees apart. The three main facilities are located in the Mojave Desert in California, near Madrid, Spain, and near Canberra, Australia. If we did not have this network set strategically around the world, we would lose communication with our crafts and astronauts every time the earth rotated away from the point in space in which the craft is located. These three main stations allow us to remain in constant contact with our space crafts and can be thought of as a compass and two-way communication network for our space crafts.
The DSN’s responsibilities are transmitting commands to manned and unmanned spacecraft, performing long baseline interfermetry observations, tracking spacecrafts and their velocity, receiving telemetric data from spacecrafts, gathering science data, and monitoring and controlling the performance of the DSN network.
DSN Antenna Network
There are three main DSN communication facilities, and they each consist of at least four specialized parabolic antennas. A 111 foot in diameter high efficiency antenna, a beam waveguide antenna 111 feet in diameter, another 230 foot antenna, and a smaller 85 foot diameter antenna. These antennas are capable of receiving low noise communications from manned and unmanned spacecraft as far away as the Voyager missions, which are still in communication with Earth.
The History of the Deep Space Network
In 1958 the United States Army transferred the JPL department to NASA and gave them the responsibility of designing, managing, executing, and operating missions to our moon and all other deep space or planetary missions in our solar system. By using the DSN network, NASA eliminated the need to build a separate specialized communication network for each space mission it launches.
The Future of the Deep Space Network
NASA plans to expand the Deep Space Network in the future. There are sub-sites which do add to communications; these are based in Hawaii, India, South America, Madagascar, and New Zealand. Some believe that we can even expand the DSN to outer space in the future. We could build communication antennas on Mars and Saturn’s moons, but at the present time we are still far from having the technological capability to build these additional antennas in our solar system.
Image of Current Positions of Voyager I and Voyager II
Voyager I, Voyager II and the Capabilities of the DSN
Both of our Voyager missions, which left Earth in 1977, sent back stunning images of the Saturn, erupting moons, Neptune, and other unworldly images through our DSN network. These two pioneers are still in communication with us through the DSN. In 2008, with radio waves traveling at the speed of light, it took 14 hours and 52 minutes for us to receive the low transmission radio signal from Voyager. Take a look at the image above provided by NASA to get an interesting view of how the DSN helps us keep exploring and receiving data from the outer reaches of our solar system.
Both Images Courtesy of NASA