NASA’S Deep Space Network has completed a number of upgrades to help
support the fleet of more than two dozen spacecraft touring the solar
system. Among the upgrades is the addition of a new 34-meter
(110-foot) antenna near Madrid, Spain, which began operations on Nov. 1.

The Deep Space Network, managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
Pasadena, Calif., is
a worldwide network of antennas that supports interplanetary
spacecraft missions, and some near-Earth missions. With antennas in
Spain; near Canberra, Australia; and in California’s Mojave Desert,
the network has the ability to provide radio communications with
spacecraft at all times. The three sites are spaced approximately
one-third of the way around Earth from each other so they cover
spacecraft in any direction as the world turns.

Among the missions supported by the network are the Mars Exploration
Rovers that will land on Mars in January; the Stardust mission that
will collect comet dust in January; the Cassini-Huygens mission that
will probe the rings and moons of Saturn beginning in July; and the
Genesis mission which is collecting solar wind particles for return to
Earth in September.

“We have upgraded our network to accommodate the unprecedented level
of activity this winter,” said Peter Doms, manager of the Deep Space
Network systems program at JPL. “It’s the large number of these
events that we need to support; that is the reason for these

The Madrid antenna is the biggest piece of about $54 million worth of
improvements to the network. “These upgrades will allow us to be right
there when the missions need us,” said Doms. Other upgrades include
improving the capabilities of existing antennas at all three of the
network’s tracking complexes; modifying the antennas to “listen” to
more than one spacecraft at a time; adding more powerful transmitters;
replacing some older hardware and software with more reliable
equipment; and adding a new navigation capability to help the Mars
rovers land on their targets.

Each complex consists of several deep space stations equipped with
large parabolic reflector antennas and ultra sensitive receiving
systems that include a 70-meter-diameter (230-foot) antenna; a
34-meter-diameter (110-foot) high-efficiency antenna; at least one
34-meter (110-foot) beam waveguide antenna; and a 26-meter-diameter
(85-foot) antenna.

“To give you an idea of how sensitive these antennas are, if we were
to “listen” to one spacecraft in the outer solar system by Jupiter or
Saturn for 1 billion years and add up all the signal we collected, it
would be enough power to set off the flash bulb on your camera once,”
said Doms.

Mission projections for the period of November 2003 to February 2004
indicate the greatest need for increased communications capacity will
be at the Madrid complex. The new antenna in Madrid will add about 70
hours of spacecraft-tracking time per week for the rovers and orbiters
during the periods when Mars is in view of Madrid. The added hours
represent a 33-percent increase from the station’s current capacity of
210 hours per week.

In Australia, other NASA-funded upgrades were completed this summer on
the Parkes Radio Telescope. Owned by the Australian Commonwealth
Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, the 64-meter
(210-foot) antenna is located near the town of Parkes, Australia. With
upgrades to handle the current deep space transmission standards,
Parkes will take on some of the Deep Space Network workload.

Parkes will provide backup support for a large number of critical
mission events and will also provide coverage for missions that would
otherwise receive less during periods of conflicts. The major
improvement is adding a microwave system that allows for reception in
the X-band frequency currently used by all missions. The amount of
solid paneling on the Parkes antenna was also increased to offer
better performance.

JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, also in

Information about the Deep Space Network is available online at: .