10 Cool Facts on the NASA Deep Space Network

tl;dr: The NASA Deep Space Network is a series of antennae strategically positioned around the world and designed to receive data from space objects at a 360 degree range. This is how NASA and other space agencies receive data from orbiters, spacecraft, etc. and through an inter-connected communication system, these antennae send data between locations and even other locations all around the world. Scroll down for our 10 Cool Facts about the NASA Deep Space Network.

Have you ever wondered how satellites, orbiters, rovers, spacecraft, telescopes, etc send information back to Scientists and Astronomers back here on Earth?

Well, it’s pretty simple and rather brilliant; please welcome the NASA Deep Space Network!

This network of satellites and antennae is a scientific miracle. Imagine telling Sir Issac Newton that one day we’ll be able to send objects out into space and have them communicate with us from millions of miles away, he’d laugh at you.

The DSN or Deep Space Network is much more than a gamut of huge antennas constantly receiving and deciphering data from objects out in space. The Deep Space Network remains an energetic system for tracking, commanding and monitoring the safety and health of spacecraft at several distant planetary and now interstellar points throughout the Solar System.

The Deep Space Network enables powerful scientific operations that unveil unthinkable discoveries; the interiors of known and newly discovered moons, planets and it even probes for comets, asteroids and other stellar objects.

The Deep Space Network is an embodiment of technology, science, functions and terms that we’ll review in this article. Let’s get started on the basics.

Telemetry: Telemetry information is composed of urgent engineering and scientific data transmitted to Earth by means of radio signs from spacecraft as they investigate the most distant spans of close planetary systems. The Deep Space Network obtains, decodes, processes and circulates this information all around the world.

Spacecraft Command: Space mission operation groups utilize the Deep Space Network Command System to control the exercises of their spacecraft. Commands or changes are delivered to robotic objects as coded PC documents that the spacecraft executes as a progression of functions.

Tracking/Following: The Deep Space Network tracking unit gives a two-path correspondence between Earth-based instruments and any given spacecraft. It will enable it to make estimations that permit flight controllers to focus the position and speed of spacecraft with extraordinary precision.

Radio Science: The Deep Space Network data reception wires are utilized by some space missions to carry out scientific trials by using the radio signals sent between Earth and spacecraft in orbit, traveling to another planet, etc.

Alterations in radio signals between their receipt and transmission can provide substantial amounts of valuable data about distant places in our Solar System. Some examples of this include the examination of the rings of Saturn, uncovering the inside structure of planets and moons and even stress-testing Einstein’s hypothesis of general relativity.

Science: Additionally, the Deep Space Network is utilized as a propelled instrument for experimental exploration, including radio stargazing and radar mapping of passing space objects.

10 Cool Facts on the NASA Deep Space Network:

Now that we know a brief history of the Deep Space Network and the terminology needed to understand these 10 cool facts, we can move on and dive deep into it!

NASA Deep Space Network Cool Fact #10. As The World Turns.

The Deep Space Network remains Earth’s worldwide rocket correspondence system.

The Deep Space Network has three main locations; Goldstone, California, Madrid, Spain and Canberra, Australia.

Each of the Deep Space Network locations are all equipped with numerous allegorical dish reception apparatuses, including one dish at each location that spans 230 feet across.



Image by NASA, http://goo.gl/J5sBPp


These three locations weren’t selected because they’re nice places to visit. They are strategically position around the globe, 120 degrees of separation from one another around the Earth. The Deep Space Network’s positions provide around the clock alignment to receive incoming radio frequencies from any spacecraft on the Solar System (and beyond).

NASA Deep Space Network Cool Fact #9. One Small Step for Man…

The Deep Space Network demonstrated its precision, technological competency and importance to the world as it received incoming transmissions from the first moonwalk from Apollo 11.



Image by NASA, http://goo.gl/3j2bSk


This remains one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. The Deep Space Network received the data transmission from the lander on Luna, our Moon and delivered to the world the first television images of a space traveler; Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon’s surface in 1969.

NASA Deep Space Network Cool Fact #8. Planetary Ambassador Group

One of the really cool things about the Deep Space Network is that it’s on the front lines. Meaning, the Deep Space Network receives, analyzes, converts and sends signals before anyone or anything else.

The Deep Space Network showed the World the first-ever picture of Mars, acquired by NASA’s Mariner 4 spacecraft in 1965. Later, the Mariner 10 spacecraft returned images of Mercury’s planetary surface back in 1974 – all thanks to the Deep Space Network.



Image by NASA, http://goo.gl/4E7MS7


The NASA’s twin spacecraft Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 performed the first fly by of Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune. These spacecraft took the first close-up pictures of these planets, in addition to some of their moons and rings – all thanks to the NASA Deep Space Network. The Deep Space Network received the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 pictures being transmitted to Earth from 6 billion miles away. Can you believe that distance?

The famous picture Carl Sagan called “The Pale Blue Dot” was received, decoded and presented as an images thanks to the Deep Space Network, as well as the rocket’s entrance into interstellar space.

NASA Deep Space Network Cool Fact #7. You’re Sure to Understand This.

The Deep Space Network is in ‘constant contact’ with thirty-three different spacecraft! Can you image how much data is being sent at any given time and being received, decoded and presented to Scientists and Astronomers all over the world? You can view in real-time the data being received and transmitted from the NASA Deep Space Network here.

The Deep Space Network’s first year of operation was way back in 1963. Back then the Deep Space Network only corresponded with 3 spacecraft. Back then space programs hadn’t developed, deployed, tracked and communicated with as many stellar objects as we do today; space is just a much busier place in 2015.




So today, as the Deep Space Network is corresponding with the thirty-three different spacecraft traveling and orbiting all over the our Solar System, it’s sending communication through radio waves to these spacecraft and in return receives data for several different groups within the scientific and astronomical community, including; engineering, telemetry, imagery and scientific information with respect to forces and objects we’re incapable of detecting or measuring here on Earth.

NASA Deep Space Network Cool Fact #6. Not Just NASA.

The Deep Space Network is a world-wide network of system that transfers the data and information collected from spacecraft to laboratories all over the world, creating an instantaneous and web of global space organizations.



Image by AstroWatch.net, http://goo.gl/7yltMV


While the Deep Space Network receives, transmits, tracks and programs orders to the various spacecraft, the network of communication is distributed and provided to space agencies all over the world. These organizations include; the Indian Space Agency, the Japanese Space Agency and the European Space Agency.

NASA Deep Space Network Cool Fact #5. Always Room For Science.

The Deep Space Network is utilized for more than just communicating with spacecraft. One of its other invaluable qualities revolves around the exploration of other objects, surfaces and even energy sources undetectable by visible light or from the surface on Earth.

Of course, the technology that the Deep Space Network houses plays a significant role in the two-way correspondence between Earth and spacecraft, however, the Deep Space Network radio dishes provide a source of reception for scientific findings humans would be otherwise blind to.



Image by NASA, http://goo.gl/0JbTpy


The Deep Space Network’s radio dishes utilize radar as a means of gathering scientific data that get transmitted back to the Earth. This is done through the act of sending various sonar and radio waves (among others) at objects in space and decoding the data returned from the waves bouncing off their surfaces and returning.

The Deep Space Network has played a critical role in developing methods and obtaining data and scientific information required to identify objects such as pulsars, quasars and even black holes.

NASA Deep Space Network Cool Fact #4: Houston, We Have a Problem…

Everyone’s seen the movie, but did you know that the Apollo 13 space mission depended on the Deep Space Network for the survival and safe return of its crew?

The Deep Space Network played a critical role in communicating with the spacecraft used on the Apollo 13 mission. After the burst of an oxygen tank on-board, NASA decided to prematurely end the lunar landing mission and focus on the safe return of its Astronauts.



“Apollo 13 passing Moon” by James Lovell, John Swigert, Fred Haise – The Apollo Image Gallery. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://goo.gl/6XXWJY


Amid the impending doom of Apollo 13, it was crucial the NASA engineers and ground support remain in constant contact with the Astronauts of the Apollo 13 craft through the usage of the Deep Space Network. Designers worked diligently with one another on Earth and with the crew in space.

Spoiler alert: the Scientists back in Houston were able to leverage the Deep Space Network to assist in bringing back home Fred Haise, Jack Swigert and Jim Lovell safely to their friends and family back on Earth.

NASA Deep Space Network Cool Fact #3. Go On, We’re Listening.

Back in early December of 1995 the Galileo Spacecraft was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in east Florida. However, the Galileo Spacecraft was built much earlier, it spent over 4 years in storage after the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster of 1986.

After the deployment of the Galileo Spacecraft, NASA attempted to open the high-gain antenna on-board, but it failed to successfully pop out all 18 of its antenna ribs. NASA engineers attempted over 13,000 times to fully open the high-gain antenna with no success.



“Artwork Galileo-Io-Jupiter” by NASA – http://goo.gl/0mAq2Q (image link) http://goo.gl/yz6KN1 (image link). Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://goo.gl/fjIzOh


In desperate attempt to communicate with this expensive and valuable spacecraft, NASA engineers made sophisticated modifications and upgrades to the Deep Space Network’s antenna receivers to capture the signal being sent from the Galileo Spacecraft’s low-gain antenna, which remained operational despite the high-gain frequency being useless.

At the end of the day, NASA remained in contact with the Galileo Spacecraft and was able to successfully fulfill over 70% of the goals the mission set-forth to accomplish prior to launch – not too shabby!

NASA Deep Space Network Cool Fact #2: Which Way Do We Go?

If you look up into the night’s sky and turn around and move your head in a 360 degree rotation you can get a sense for how many paths are possible to escape orbit and enter the realms of our Solar System.

Luckily our Solar System has a rhythm to it, an order, a symphony of orchestrated movements among all the Planets and objects within the gravitation influence of our Sun. Because of this, NASA Scientists had to consider more than 10,000 possible launch directions for the Voyager Spacecraft missions.



Image by Moss and Fog, https://goo.gl/8dzMO5


This complex puzzle that Scientists had to solve was critical in the successful launch, path, direction and speed required to travel the Solar System and escape the impending deceleration caused by the gravitational pull of the Sun (the same energy that keeps all of our Solar System’s Planets in orbit).

Utilizing the gravitational influence from specific Planets in our Solar System, the spacecraft being sent into interstellar space required a path that allowed it to pass by planets and use their gravitational pull to accelerate its velocity and trajectory in the right direction to its next destination.

This maneuver was achieved by basically using the Planets as a slingshot to get itself from one Planet to the next. Thanks to the NASA Deep Space Network, we were able to remain in constant communication with the spacecraft and direct it perfectly from one location to the next, in an efficient and speedy trip.

NASA Deep Space Network Cool Fact #1: Instant Messaging, Solar System Style.

It’s been a long time since we successfully launched the Voyager 1 and 2 Spacecraft. Since 1977, the twins have been traveling at a rapid pace through the Solar System. As of today, Voyager 1 is roughly 12,473,384,019 miles from Earth and Voyager 2 is roughly 10,261,906,596 miles from Earth.



Image by NASA, http://goo.gl/MXIeuv


Radio waves travel at roughly the speed of light, which is roughly 300,000 km per second or equivalently 186,411 miles per second. To send a message to the Voyager 1 Spacecraft from the Deep Space Network utilizing radio waves, it would take roughly 18 hours for the spacecraft to receive our message and another 18 hours to receive the returned signal from the spacecraft back to the Deep Space Network.


Featured Image by NASA, http://goo.gl/K8H7pD

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