NASA bulks-up Deep Space Network with new antennas

NASA pays General Dynamics $41M to upgrade Deep Space Network

DSN dishes
There's no room for bad communications in space and NASA this week signed said it would add a a couple of its largest antennas to let it better communicate with interplanetary flight missions.

General Dynamics got a $41M NASA check to build two additional 34-meter (112-foot wide) beam waveguide antennas as part of  the agency's modernization plan.  According to General Dynamics beam waveguide-style antennas house sensitive electronics and systems in a room that is inside of the antenna's ground-based pedestal rather than in the center of the dish or reflector. The design makes it easier for technicians to maintain the equipment as well as implement technology upgrades. Construction, integration and testing for the two new antennas is scheduled 2014 and 2016, respectively, the company said.  The new antennas will be located at the Deep Space Network (DSN) facility in Canberra, Australia.

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NASA's DSN is made up of myriad systems. It includes an international network of antennas that supports interplanetary spacecraft missions and radio and radar astronomy observations for the exploration of the solar system and the universe. Originally designed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and built by General Dynamics, the antennas let the DSN communicate with existing flight missions such as the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spitzer Space telescope and Saturn explorer Cassini.   The company has built nine, 34-meter antennas for NASA's Deep Space Network. The JPL manages the DSN for NASA

The DSN currently includes of three deep-space communications facilities placed approximately 120 degrees apart around the world: at Goldstone, in California's Mojave Desert; near Madrid, Spain; and near Canberra, Australia. This placement permits constant observation of spacecraft as the Earth rotates, and helps to make the DSN the largest and most sensitive scientific telecommunications system in the world, NASA said.

NASA has stated in the past that the DSN will be modified to meet new performance and interoperability requirements for future space exploration to Mars, Jupiter and Pluto to name just a few upcoming missions.  

In fact this latest announcement is the second major upgrade to the DSP NASA has made it past several months.  Last year NASA reinvigorated its 70-meter-wide (230-foot-wide) "Mars antenna." The antenna, a key cog in the DSN, needed about $1.25M worth of what NASA called major, delicate surgery. The revamp, which was completed in November,  called for lifting the antenna -- about 4 million kilograms (9 million pounds) of finely tuned scientific instruments - to a height of about 5 millimeters (0.2 inches) so workers can replace the steel runner, walls and supporting grout. This is the first time the runner was replaced on the Mars antenna, NASA said.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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