Preparing for the communication needs of an expected population boom
in interplanetary spacecraft, NASA has selected a builder to add an advanced
dish antenna, 34 meters in diameter (112 feet), near Madrid, Spain, one of
the three sites of the agency’s Deep Space Network.

The Deep Space Network is a global system for communicating with
interplanetary spacecraft.

“We are getting ready for a crunch period beginning in November
2003,” said Rich Miller, head of planning and commitments for the part of
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., that manages the
network. In late 2003 and early 2004, the United States, Europe and Japan
will each have missions arriving at Mars, two other spacecraft will be
encountering comets, and a third comet mission will launch. Several other
missions will have continuing communication needs.

NASA has selected Schwartz-Hautmont Construcciones Metalicas S.A. of
Tarragona, Spain, as the successful bidder to build a new antenna to be
completed at the Madrid complex by November 2003. The antenna is the biggest
piece in about $54 million worth of improvements that NASA’s Office of Space
Science, Office of Space Flight, and Space Operations Management Office have
set as priorities for increasing the Deep Space Network’s capabilities by
late 2003. Other parts of the plan would improve the capabilities of
existing antennas at all three of the network’s tracking complexes: Madrid;
Canberra, Australia; and Goldstone, near Barstow, Calif.

The Deep Space Network communicates with spacecraft that are anywhere
from near Earth to out past Pluto. The network uses clusters of antennas at
the three sites spaced approximately one-third of the way around the Earth
from each other so they can cover spacecraft in any direction as the world
turns. Each station has one 70-meter diameter (230-foot) antenna, plus
several smaller ones.

Projections for demands on the network during the November 2003 to
February 2004 period indicate the greatest need for increased communications
capacity will be at Madrid. NASA plans to land two rovers on Mars in early
2004. Building a new 34-meter, antenna in Madrid would add about 70 hours of
spacecraft-tracking time per week during the periods when Mars is in view of
Madrid. The Madrid complex’s current capacity is 210 hours within Mars view
periods per week.

Additional information about the Deep Space Network is available
online at . JPL, a division of the
California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the network for