Spacecraft and Instruments

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Communications With Earth Summary
View of the Canberra Complex showing the 70m (230 ft.) antenna.
Image above: NASA's Deep Space Network complex in Canberra, Australia. Image credit: NASA/JPL.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter can communicate with the Deep Space Network antennas on Earth using two different kinds of radio waves:

X-band: the current standard in communications, which, when amplified, will allow the orbiter to send data back to Earth more than 10 times faster than previous missions.
Ka-band: a previously untested radio frequency 4 times higher than X-band, which would allow scientists to bring data back even faster

From the viewpoint of a Deep Space Network antenna on Earth, the orbiter spends about one-third of its time in every orbit behind Mars. During these times, the orbiter is "occulted from the Earth." During occultations, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter cannot usefully send or receive radio signals.

So, out of 16 hours of daily Deep Space Network tracking, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will send data to Earth for 10 to 11 hours for about 700 days. The data rate will be about 0.5 to 4 megabits per second. With these figures in mind, the estimated volume of data returned by Mars Reconnaissance Orbit will be about 34 terrabits. That's equivalent to 4 terrabytes of data--about as much as can be stored on 6,500 compact disks. It's also 10 to 20 times more data than previous Mars missions and more data than all previous planetary missions combined.

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+ Deep Space Network home page