NASA Has New Dish for its Deep Space Network

The Deep Space Station 56 or DSS-56 is a powerful 34 meter wide antenna that was added to the Deep Space Network’s Deep Space Communications Complex in Madrid in early 2021. NASA / JPL-Caltech

When NASA needs to communicate with their spacecraft exploring our solar system and beyond, it sends and receives messages over an antenna network known as the Deep Space Network (DSN). And as vehicles like the Voyager probes go deeper into space and more and more missions like the Perseverance rover are launched on the way to Mars, the agency needs a more powerful communication network to stay in touch with everyone.

Now the DSN is getting an upgrade with a new 34 meter wide bowl in Madrid, Spain that has just been added to the network.

Work has been underway on the new Deep Space Station 56 (DSN-56) antenna since 2017. Most of the other antennas on the network can transmit and receive in a specific frequency band, so they can only communicate with certain spacecraft. DSN-56 is an all-in-one device that can use multiple frequency bands to communicate with all spacecraft that currently using the network.

“DSS-56 brings added flexibility and real-time reliability to the Deep Space Network,” said Badri Younes, assistant associate administrator and program manager for NASA Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN), in a statement. “This new asset symbolizes and underscores our continued support for more than 30 space missions that count on our services to enable their success.”

In addition to the location in Spain, there are also DSN stations in Canberra, Australia, and Goldstone, USA. Due to the three different locations around the world, at least one location is always visible for each space mission, even if the earth is rotating. With the addition of new hardware, the network can handle more bandwidth, which is important for future missions where large amounts of data are sent back.

Getting the antenna up and running during the pandemic was not an easy task, and engineers also faced an unexpectedly massive snowfall in Spain and a complicated set-up and calibration phase. After all this, the antenna is now ready for use.

“After the lengthy commissioning process, the DSN’s most powerful 34-meter antenna is now talking to our spaceship,” said Bradford Arnold, DSN project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Although pandemic restrictions and recent weather conditions in Spain have presented significant challenges, the Madrid staff have held out and I am proud to welcome DSS-56 to the global DSN family.”

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