NASA Prepares for Moon and Mars With New Addition to Its Deep Space Network
Web Hosting

Robotic spacecraft
will be able to communicate with the dish using radio waves and lasers.

Surrounded by California desert, NASA officials broke
ground Tuesday, Feb. 11, on a new antenna for communicating with the agency’s farthest-flung
robotic spacecraft. Part of the Deep Space Network (DSN), the 112-foot-wide (34-meter-wide)
antenna dish being built represents a future in which more missions will require advanced technology, such as lasers capable of
transmitting vast amounts of data from astronauts on the Martian surface. As part of its Artemis program NASA
will send the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024, applying lessons
learned there to send astronauts to Mars.

Using massive antenna dishes, the agency talks to more
than 30 deep space missions on any given day, including many international
missions. As more missions have launched and with more in the works, NASA is
looking to strengthen the network. When completed in 2½ years, the new dish
will be christened Deep Space Station-23 (DSS-23), bringing the DSN’s number of operational antennas to 13.

“Since the 1960s, when the world
first watched live pictures of humans in space and on the Moon, to revealing
imagery and scientific data from the surface of Mars and vast, distant
galaxies, the Deep Space Network has connected humankind with our solar system
and beyond,” said Badri Younes, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for
Space Communications and Navigation, or SCaN, which oversees NASA’s networks. “This
new antenna, the fifth of six currently planned, is another example of NASA’s
determination to enable science and space exploration through the use of the
latest technology.”

Managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the world’s largest and busiest
deep space network is clustered in three locations – Goldstone,
California; Madrid, Spain; and Canberra, Australia – that are positioned
approximately 120 degrees apart around the globe to enable continual contact
with spacecraft as the Earth rotates. (This
live tool
lets viewers see
which DSN dishes are sending up commands or receiving data at any given time.)

The first addition
to Goldstone since 2003, the new dish is being built at the complex’s Apollo
site, so named because its DSS-16 antenna supported NASA’s human missions to the Moon. Similar
antennas have been built in recent years in Canberra, while two are under
construction in Madrid.

“The DSN is Earth’s one
phone line to our two Voyager spacecraft – both in interstellar space – all our
Mars missions and the New Horizons spacecraft that is now far past Pluto,”
said JPL Deputy Director Larry James. “The more we explore, the more
antennas we need to talk to all our missions.”

While DSS-23 will function as a radio antenna, it will also
be equipped with mirrors and a special receiver for lasers beamed from distant
spacecraft. This technology is critical for sending astronauts to places like
Mars. Humans there will need to communicate with Earth more than NASA’s robotic
explorers do, and a Mars base, with its life support systems and equipment,
would buzz with data that needs to be monitored.

“Lasers can increase your data rate from Mars by
about 10 times what you get from radio,” said Suzanne Dodd, director of
the Interplanetary Network, the organization that manages the DSN. “Our
hope is that providing a platform for optical communications will encourage
other space explorers to experiment with lasers on future missions.”

While clouds can disrupt lasers, Goldstone’s clear desert
skies make it an ideal location to serve as a laser receiver about 60% of the
time. A demonstration of DSS-23’s capabilities is around the corner: When NASA launches an orbiter called Psyche to a metallic
asteroid in a few years, it will carry an experimental laser communications
terminal developed by JPL. Called the Deep Space Optical Communications
project, this equipment will send data and images to an observatory at Southern
California’s Palomar Mountain. But Psyche will also be able to communicate
with the new Goldstone antenna, paving the way for higher data rates in deep

For more information:

News Media Contact

Andrew Good

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.


Kathryn Hambleton

NASA Headquarters, Washington



Read More