NASA’s Deep Space Network Looks to the Future

Network Upgrades

In January 2021, the DSN welcomed its 13th dish to the family. Named Deep Space Station 56 (DSS-56), this new 34-meter-wide (112-foot-wide) dish in Madrid is an “all-in-one” antenna. Previously constructed antennas are limited in the frequency bands they can receive and transmit, often restricting them to communicating with specific spacecraft. DSS-56 was the first to use the DSN’s full range of communication frequencies as soon as it went online and can communicate with all the missions that the DSN supports.

Soon after bringing DSS-56 online, the DSN team completed 11 months of critical upgrades to Deep Space Station 43 (DSS-43), the massive 70-meter (230-foot) antenna in Canberra. DSS-43 is the only dish in the Southern Hemisphere with a transmitter powerful enough, and that broadcasts the right frequency, to send commands to the distant Voyager 2 spacecraft, which is now in interstellar space. With rebuilt transmitters and upgraded facilities equipment, DSS-43 will serve the network for decades to come.

“The refresh of DSS-43 was a huge accomplishment, and we’re on our way to take care of the next two 70-meter antennas in Goldstone and Madrid. And we’ve continued to deliver new antennas to address growing demand – all during COVID-19,” said JPL’s Brad Arnold, manager of the DSN.

The improvements are part of a project to meet not just the heightened demand, but also evolving mission needs.

Missions increasingly generate more data than in the past. The data rate from deep space spacecraft has grown by more than 10 times since the first lunar missions in the 1960s. As NASA looks toward sending humans to Mars, this need for higher data volumes will only increase further.