Good morning everyone.
Today I thought that we’d take a quick look at the network of instruments that send and receive data to our spacecraft, satellites, and space probes, including the Mars Science Laboratory, also known as the Curiosity rover. In particular, we’ll look at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex and the radio antennas (antennae are found on critters, FYI) located there.
Goldstone is one of three facilities of the NASA Deep Space Network that are spaced approximately 120o around the world to allow constant communications with spacecraft as the Earth rotates. There is the Goldstone complex, also called the Goldstone Observatory, in the Mojave Desert in California; the Spanish Complex near Madrid; and the Australian Complex near Canberra.
From the NASA/JPL website:
“Each complex consists of at least four deep space stations equipped with ultrasensitive receiving systems and large parabolic dish antennas. There are:
One 34-meter (111-foot) diameter High Efficiency antenna.
One 34-meter Beam Waveguide antenna.
(Three at the Goldstone Complex and two in Madrid)
One 26-meter (85-foot) antenna.
One 70-meter (230-foot) antenna.
Five new 34-meter beam waveguide antennas were added to the system in the late 1990′s. Three were located at Goldstone, and one each in both Canberra and Madrid. To support the growing demands on the DSN, a second antenna was built at the Madrid site, completed in 2003, for a total of six beam waveguide antennas.
The antennas and data delivery systems make it possible to:
|Acquire telemetry data from spacecraft.|
|Transmit commands to spacecraft.|
|Track spacecraft position and velocity.|
|Perform very-long-baseline interferometry observations.|
|Measure variations in radio waves for radio science experiments.|
|Gather science data.|
|Monitor and control the performance of the network.|
The network is a facility of NASA, and is managed for NASA by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The Interplanetary Network Directorate (IND) manages the program within JPL.”
The Goldstone Deep Space Communications Center is currently tracking, receiving data and transmitting commands to at least 24 spacecraft.
The Goldstone Observatory
The Goldstone Observatory is located on a large section of land in the Mojave Desert that would normally be referred to as a reservation, so I shall (see map above). The active antennas are located at four widely separated sites on the reservation, making use of the terrain to shield each site from interference and noise from the outside and each other.
This complex is located at the far north end of the reservation.
DSS-14 – the 70 meter Mars antenna is located here, the largest antenna at Goldstone and used primarily to communicate with the most distant spacecraft, such as Voyager 1, Cassini and New Horizons.
DSS-15 – a 34 meter HEF (High-Efficiency) antenna that was named ‘Uranus’ for its support of Voyager 2 on its Uranus flyby.
This site is located near the geographical center of the reservation. Several antennas are located here:
Acquisition antenna – a 2 meter dish used to locate fast moving spacecraft in Earth orbit and steer the main antenna onto the target.
DSS-16 – a 26 meter antenna primarily used to communicate with spacecraft. Originally designed as part of the Manned Space Flight Network and used for the Apollo missions. In the 1980s and ‘90s it was used to support Space Shuttle missions.
DSS-23 – a 23 meter antenna primarily used to communicate with spacecraft, not currently in service.
DSS-26 – 34 meter BWG (Beam Waveguide) Cluster of three antennas primarily used to communicate with spacecraft. These antennas can be combined into an array with the DSS-15 HEF antenna to provide the equivalent performance of the Mars antenna. There is a lot more that they can do by arraying their antennas with those from the other complexes.
This site is located on the south eastern side of the reservation. From wikimapia:
“The Echo site has been in operation since 1960 and is named for its initial operation in support of Project Echo, an experiment that transmitted voice communications coast to coast by bouncing the signals off the surface of a passive balloon-type satellite. The original 26-meter antenna erected for the Echo experiment was moved in 1961 to the nearby Venus site.
The Echo site is also the Goldstone administrative and support center. The low-profile buildings house offices, maintenance and repair shops, the communications center, the Goldstone transportation facilities, and a cafeteria.”
DSS-12 – ECHO antenna
Venus Research and Development Site
This site is located is the south east corner of the reservation. Here’s a rather dated but mostly accurate description from wikimapia:
“The Venus site began operation in 1962 as the Network research and development station and is named for its first operational activity, a successful radar detection of the planet Venus. The 26-meter Venus antenna was originally located at the Echo site, where it was erected to support the Project Echo experiment described above. In 1961, the antenna was moved en masse by truck to its present location, a shielded site where research and development of high-power transmitters could be carried out without causing radio interference at the other stations, and where the electromagnetic radiation danger to personnel could be minimized by station layout.
Along with high-power transmitters, other capabilities developed and first tested at the Venus site include low-noise receivers, computer-controlled subsystems, digital signal processing, antenna arraying to increase telemetry data rates, remote station operations, and systems and equipment for NASA’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.
Radar astronomy experiments, which employ high-power transmitters, low-noise receivers, precision timing systems, and digital signal processing techniques, have been used extensively to field-test and verify new capabilities before their introduction into the Network.”
DSS-13 – a 34 meter R&D antenna. From the NASA/GDSCC site:
“This 34-meter multi-frequency antenna (DSS 13) at Goldstone was completed in 1991 at the Venus research and development site. It is the first antenna for deep-space communications to use a beam waveguide to route microwave energy between the main reflector and a room located in the basement. In this way, many feeds and amplifiers can be placed in a laboratory environment and be illuminated selectively by means of a rotating microwave mirror.”
DSS-28 – named Gemini, these are 34 meter BWG antennas that were originally built for the Army and transferred to NASA in 1994. From the NASA/GDSCC site:
“The first mission supported was the Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), a cooperative mission between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). DSS-27 (in the foreground) is used today as part of the Deep Space Network and DSS-28 has been turned over for use as part of the GAVRT project (Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope).”
This site, located north east from the Apollo site, is the original Goldstone station and was deactivated in 1981.
DSS-11 – the Pioneer antenna is now designated as a National Historic Landmark by the US Dept of the Interior.
From the NASA/GDSCC site:
“The Pioneer Station (DSS-11), a 26 meter polar mounted antenna was the first deep space antenna to be constructed at Goldstone. Completed Dec.1958 in time to support the Pioneer 3 mission, DSS-11 became the proto-type antenna for the Deep Space Network and went on to track a variety of NASA missions including all Pioneer spacecraft, the Echo Balloon projects, Ranger, Lunar Orbiter, Surveyor, Apollo, Helios, Mariner, Viking and Voyager. A Manned Space Flight wing was built at the Pioneer site to support the manned space flights of the Apollo program. DSS-11 was officially mothballed in 1981 and was declared a National Historic Monument as the first deep space antenna in the Deep Space Network (DSN) in 1985.”
There is a lot more to the NASA Deep Space Network and Goldstone, but I’m out of room, out of time and out of coffee. Check out the reference links for more.
NASA Deep Space Network website
The Wikipedia article on Goldstone is pretty lousy and has at least one blatant error. Caveat emptor.
All images except for the map are by NASA/JPL at the above sites.
The map clipping is from wikimapia.