Reliable space communication and navigation systems are critical to every NASA mission. Spacecraft commands, never-before-seen images, and scientific data are sent and received daily by NASA’s giant antennas on Earth. From the Voyager mission exploring beyond our solar system, to astronauts onboard the International Space Station, space communications provide the crucial connection to our home planet.
Global Communications Networks
Exploring the Farthest Points of Our Solar System
Keeping in touch, no matter the distance.
From robotic explorers venturing the rocky landscape of Mars, to the Voyager missions unveiling the secrets of interstellar space, to the first woman and first person of color landing on the Moon—NASA’s Deep Space Network provides communications, tracking, and radio science services to missions that explore the furthest points of our solar system. Consisting of three ground stations around the world, its sites are spaced equidistant from each other, ensuring one complex is always in view of faraway spacecraft. The global network also serves as a planetary radar and radio observatory for science measurements.
Deep Space Station 35 (DSS-35) at the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex in Canberra, Australia.
Earth and Beyond
Enabling missions within one million miles of Earth.
Astronauts onboard the International Space Station, missions monitoring Earth’s weather and effects of climate change, and spacecraft exploring the Moon and beyond all depend on NASA’s Near Space Network to provide robust communications services. Using a blend of government and commercial assets, the network supports science, human spaceflight, and technology demonstration missions exploring our planet and the solar system. This data is gathered through global direct-to-Earth antennas systems and a fleet of relay satellites.
The Second Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) Ground Terminal at the White Sands Complex in New Mexico.
Optical, or laser, communications will provide significant benefits for missions, including bandwidth increases of 10 to 100 times more than radio frequency systems.
Currently, most NASA missions use radio frequency communications to send data to and from spacecraft. Radio waves have been used in space communications since the beginning of space exploration and have a proven track record of success. However, as space missions generate and collect more data, the need for enhanced communications capabilities becomes paramount.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launches on the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program 3 (STP-3) mission from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission’s Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6) spacecraft hosts NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) and the NASA-U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Ultraviolet Spectro-Coronagraph (UVSC) Pathfinder. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)
The Next Step in Communications
Rapid advances in quantum optics have recently enabled space-based demonstrations of new communications and networking technologies and protocols.
Leveraging optical communications, the second quantum revolution promises to significantly improve NASA’s mission in various scientific, exploration, and technological enterprises, but especially in space-to-ground and deep space communications and navigation.
Space Communications and Navigation program intern, Ashwin Mishra, tests equipment in the Quantum Communications Lab at NASA’s Glenn Research Center.
NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation program, or SCaN, serves as the program office for all of NASA’s space communications activities. Presently enabling the success of more than 100 NASA and non-NASA mission, SCaN manages and directs the ground-based facilities and services provided by the Deep Space Network and the Near Space Network, including the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite system.
Explore the future of space communications technology and engineering.
Every NASA missions requires use of the electromagnetic spectrum to communicate with our spacecraft and send vital data back to Earth.
Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System
The Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) constellation consists of a number of geosynchronous satellites distributed over the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and Indian Ocean, which provide near-continuous relay services to over 25 missions.
Space Communications and Navigation Program (SCaN)
NASA's Space Communications and Navigation program, or SCaN, serves as the program office for all of NASA’s space communications activities, enabling the success of more than 100 NASA and non-NASA missions.
What’s Next: The Future of NASA’s Laser Communications
NASA uses lasers to send information to and from Earth, employing invisible beams to traverse the skies, sending terabytes of…