50 Years of the Deep Space Network

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A Deep Space Network Antenna at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the Deep Space Network, the array of radio dishes scattered around the globe tasked with communicating with NASA’s space missions orbiting the Earth and beyond. The Deep Space Network is crucial for sending commands to orbiting missions around Mars like the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is the home of the HiRISE camera that takes the images we show, and receiving the data these robot explorers take of our Solar System and the stars and galaxies beyond it.

Three stations  were established so that there would always be at least one of the dish complexes on the Earth rotating into range for communications with a distant spacecraft.  Today the Deep Space Network has dishes in Canberra, Australia; Madrid, Spain; and Goldstone, USA. The stations are separated by  ~120 degrees of longitude.

In the Deep Space Network’s first year of operations, it communicated with just three spacecraft. In 1969, the Deep Space Station 46 (DSS46) in Australia  captured the video sent of  Neil Armstrong’s famous first Moon walk  from the surface of Moon and relayed the video to the rest of the world. Fast forward 44 years to the present, and the Deep Space Network is now charged with supporting and communicating with over 30 space-based missions from NASA, ESA, JAXA, and ISRO.  The Solar System has indeed become a busier and much explored place. The radio antennas are always on and talking with these multitude of robot explorers.

In honor of the tireless work of the Deep Space Network and its operators,  let us all map some fans and blotches on the images taken from orbit around Mars that they have help provide us at http://www.planetfour.org.

Happy Birthday Deep Space Network, and whatever planet you are on, wishing you a Happy Holiday Season from all of us at Planet Four to you.

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