NASA’s space hotline is at risk as demand grows

To communicate with its interplanetary spacecraft, NASA relies on an array of giant radio antennas spread across the globe. The reliable communications network has been transferring data back and forth for more than 60 years, but its antennas are currently running at capacity, with an expected growth in demand as the space agency prepares to launch crewed missions to the moon.

A recent Report This was revealed by NASA’s Office of Inspector General Deep Space Network (DSN) In a bad situation, its demand for radio antennas is 40% higher At times. This is Current space missions demand more time than the current capacity of the network. In the last five Over the years, NASA missions received between 8,500 and 15,000 fewer DSN observation hours than requested, the report said.

The report expects demand for DSN support to „increase dramatically over the coming decade, with hourly demand for DSN reaching 50 percent by the 2030s.” The network will bear most of that increased pressure NASA’s Artemis Missions to the MoonWith the first crew scheduled to launch in late 2024.

„When Artemis comes online, everyone gets out of the way, and it has an impact on all science missions,” says Suzanne Dodd, director of the Interplanetary Networks Directorate at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Quoted NASA told SpaceNews during a meeting of the Advisory Board’s Science Board on Tuesday.

with Launch of Artemis 1 In November 2022, the Orion spacecraft had used 903 hours of DSN time, while the mission’s secondary payloads (eight cubesats) had taken an additional 871 hours, according to SpaceNews. „I don’t know whose idea it was to put those cubesats on Artemis 1,” Dodd was quoted as saying. „I don’t think it’s a good use if your DSN is oversubscribed.”

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Mission teams use DSN’s scheduling system to request network capacity to communicate with their spacecraft. „As capacity challenges develop and issues such as unexpected outages occur, missions have revealed frustration in planning and rescheduling DSN support,” the report said.

DSN uses radio frequency transmissions that travel through large antenna systems. The network is made up of three deep space communications facilities located in Goldstone, California’s Mojave Desert, and another near Madrid, Spain. The third is near Canberra, Australia. The locations are spaced approximately 120 degrees apart to ensure that at any given time, as the Earth rotates on its 360-degree axis, one or more of these facilities can communicate with a spacecraft.

To handle the growing demand on the network, NASA’s Office of Inspector General recommended that the space agency build new antennas and upgrade its existing infrastructure. NASA has been making efforts to upgrade the DSN to meet new mission requirements, including installing 18-meter antennas called LEGS dedicated to lunar missions, but its efforts have fallen behind schedule and run under budget. The space agency is currently exploring other options, such as turning to foreign partners or using commercial communications systems.

„As NASA pioneers expanded human exploration of the Moon, agencies may need to provide DSN capability for priority missions during critical phases such as launches, while other missions perform with limited or no data during those periods,” the report said.

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