DSN Now screenshot
NASA's DSN Now site provided realtime information about activities on the Deep Space Network. NASA has taken it offline while performing a cybersecurity review. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech via The Planetary Society

WASHINGTON — A popular public website that tracks activities on NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) has been taken offline for what NASA calls a “cybersecurity review” linked to future Artemis missions.

NASA’s long-running DSN Now website provided a graphical presentation of activities at the DSN’s three sites in Australia, California and Spain. The site provided realtime information about what antennas at each site were transmitting to or receiving data from missions across the solar system, illustrating the level of activity of the network and sometimes providing insights about the status of missions before formal announcements.

However, the DSN Now site has been offline since early in the month. Initially, visitors were greeted with a message that the site was “undergoing maintenance” but provided no other information, including when it would return to service.

“NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is in the process of performing updates on the Deep Space Network Now website,” an updated message now states. “The Deep Space Network Now website is not available during this period, and we apologize for any inconvenience.”

An employee of the DSN site near Canberra, Australia, tweeted Feb. 13 that DSN Now was offline because of a review to assess the “sensitivity” of the data it provided, adding it was unclear how long that review would take.

In a Feb. 16 statement to SpaceNews, JPL said that the agency was performing a “preemptive cyber security review” of the data provided by DSN Now, which it said was triggered by the network’s support for future crewed Artemis missions.

“NASA and the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are in the process of conducting a preemptive cyber security review of the real-time data provided on the Deep Space Network Now website as the agency prepares to support communications and navigation needs for crewed Artemis missions to the Moon using the Deep Space Network,” JPL stated. It said DSN Now would remain offline while the review is in progress, but did not estimate how long that would take.

NASA made extensive use of the DSN on the uncrewed Artemis 1 mission late last year. One industry source, speaking on background, said NASA may be concerned that DSN Now revealed information about communications with Artemis that could enable eavesdropping on or even jamming of communications with crewed Orion spacecraft. Other crewed NASA missions, including the International Space Station and commercial crew vehicles, do not use the DSN and the networks they use don’t have similar public-facing tools.

The use of the DSN by Artemis 1 affected other major users of the network, such as the James Webb Space Telescope. “When Artemis was up, we had to scrap our plans for a week and move in observations with very low data rates” to compensate for reduced time on the DSN, said Jane Rigby, operations project scientist for JWST at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, during a town hall session about the space telescope at a conference in January.

In a presentation to NASA’s Planetary Science Advisory Committee in December, Philip Baldwin, network operations manager for the agency’s Space Communications and Navigation Program, warned that demand for DSN time from both science missions and Artemis would far exceed DSN capacity later in the decade and into the 2030s.

“The human spaceflight exploration missions will be demanding as we try to account for those spikes” in demand, he said. NASA is looking at ways to enhance DSN capabilities without creating an “overbuilt” network with too much capacity. That could also include using other antennas not part of the DSN as well as making use of data relay assets at the moon and Mars, perhaps incorporating optical communications.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...