NASA’s newest Deep Space Network (DSN) antenna began communicating with Mars Odyssey and MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) on October 1 and is now an officially operational addition to the network.
Deep Space Station 36 (DSS-36) in Canberra, Australia, is one of four 34-meter (111-foot) beam waveguide antennas to be built as part of a project to expand the DSN. When completed, the new set of antennas will provide the same sensitivity and received signal power as one of the 70-meter (230-foot) antennas that have been operating for over 50 years.
These new antennas are important in NASA’s Journey to Mars as they will allow missions, both robotic and human, to uplink and downlink larger amounts of science and telemetry, tracking, and command data back and forth from Earth.
Beam waveguide antennas differ from conventional antennas in that the transmission and reception of multiple frequencies is facilitated by the rotation of a mirror situated beneath the antenna, in the pedestal room. The location of sensitive instrumentation and transmitters in the pedestal room rather than in the structure of the antenna makes beam waveguide antennas less complicated and more flexible to maintain than conventional antennas.
The DSN, which has been in operation for over 50 years, provides communication and tracking services to about 35 NASA and non-NASA missions beyond geosynchronous orbit (26,000 miles above the Earth’s surface). Its three Deep Space Communication Complexes located in Goldstone, California; Canberra, Australia; and Madrid, Spain are separated by approximately 120 degrees of longitude to ensure that any spacecraft in deep space can communicate with at least one station at all times as the Earth rotates. NASA has performed reconnaissance on every planet in the solar system; the Deep Space Network was there to provide communication and tracking services to all those missions.
Two antennas in Madrid, Spain are currently under construction. DSS-56 is scheduled to be operational in October 2019, while DSS-53 is scheduled to begin operations in October 2020. Canberra’s first new 34-meter beam waveguide, DSS-35, began operations on October 1, 2014. When not needed by a mission for arraying, the 34-meter antennas may support individual spacecraft. Antenna arraying combines the signals received by multiple antennas to function as a single large antenna – in this instance as a 70-meter antenna.
Next month, Robert Lightfoot, NASA Associate Administrator, members from NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Program Office, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, and the US Embassy in Canberra, Australia, will gather at the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex for the ribbon cutting ceremony of the new antenna.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation performs the day-to-day operations at the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex. JPL manages the operations and maintenance of the DSN for SCaN.