Deep Space Network: Can You Hear Me Now?

By Larry Dignan  |  Posted 2006-05-24

President Bush's vision for space exploration calls for human and robotic missions to the Moon and Mars, not to mention other far-flung planets. The problem: NASA needs an improved space communications network, according to the General Accountability Office.

In a report released May 22, the GAO noted that NASA's Deep Space Network—a series of antennas located in Goldstone, Calif., Madrid, Spain and Canberra, Australia—isn't likely to support such space exploration.

The conclusion: NASA may spend $100 million over the next two decades on new technologies and facilities that will be hampered by the lack of reliable ground communication.

"While NASA's Deep Space Network can meet most requirements of its current workload, it may not be able to meet near-term and future demand," concluded the GAO.

"The system—suffering from an aging, fragile infrastructure with some crucial components over 40 years old—has lost science data during routine operations and critical events."

Meanwhile, new customers of NASA's network face capacity constraints as NASA juggles new projects with old ones such as the Voyager program, said the GAO.

And if Bush's vision turns into reality, the network will be stressed more.

Typically, the Deep Space Network handles about 35 to 40 missions a year. Data from these missions are compiled at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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