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NASA is a sprawling organization that has to talk to everything from politicians in Washington DC to space probes that have left the solar system.  Discussions with the first might be as simple as a written letter for informal conversation, while the second requires a high-power network of ground-based antennas.  Known as the Deep Space Network (DSN) this series of antennas spread over three continents is the backbone of NASA’s communications with its various space probes. Now the DSN is in the process of implementing a well-deserved upgrade.

Part of the reason for that upgrade is the sheer number of spacecraft in deep space NASA has to communicate with.  Everything from Voyager to the Parker Solar Probe requires time on the antenna to relay data and receive instructions.  But with new missions launching at an increasing pace, the network must be beefed up in order to accommodate all the new communication links.

Video on NASA’s 70-m DSS-14 antenna.
Credit – NASA / JPL-Caltech

Currently, DSN supports 39 missions, but NASA has 30 additional missions in development, and not all of the existing missions will be phased out in the near future.  To ensure consistent communication no matter where the Earth is on its journey around the sun, the antennas supporting those 30 missions are evenly spread around the globe – in Madrid, Spain, Canberra, Australia, and near Barstow California. When not being used for communication directly, the antennas can serve as data collection platforms for radio science missions as well.

One major component of the upgrade needed to support all this work is the addition of 2 new antennas. The first, a 34-m wide dish named DSS-56 was commissioned in Madrid in January of this year. Also completed this year was an upgrade to DSS-43, a 70-m antenna located in Australia that is the only antenna in the Southern Hemisphere that is capable of sending messages to Voyager, which is currently outside of our solar system.  

There’s also a game based on DSN, if you’re interested in understanding more of how it works.
Credit – NASA Space Place YouTube Channel

DSS-43 won’t be the last 70-m antenna improvement either – its equivalents in Madrid and California are slated to receive upgrades soon as well.  Increasing the power of those antennas isn’t their only purpose.  With so much additional data being sent between handlers and spacecraft, increasing data transfer rates is another focal point of the network upgrades.  Eliminating frequency bands that specific telescopes are limited to will help the network utilize all of its resources to support all of its missions.  

Not only is the DSN getting technological upgrades, but it’s also trying a new management system that will better utilize the three sites spread throughout the world. Previously, on-site managers had managed the antennas at their site locally.  Now, there is a global hand-off protocol that managers call “Follow the Sun”, which allows personnel at each complex to run their entire network during their own “on” shift.  This has created cost savings as well as increased coordination between the sites as it requires regular knowledge transfer about local conditions and satellite quirks.  

Graphics posters showing the three 70-m antennas that are part of the DSN.
Graphics posters showing the three 70-m antennas that are part of the DSN.
Credit – NASA / JPL-Caltech

A lot of those cost savings from the new management architecture have gone into technological upgrades for the antennas themselves. With the pace of technological advancement in the communications field, there is plenty of room for improvement, but NASA has already shown that maintaining and even upgrading their internal communication network is one of the priorities.

Learn More:
NASA – NASA’s Deep Space Network Looks to the Future
SpaceNews – Increasing demands putting pressure on Deep Space Network
S&T – NASA is upgrading its Deep Space Network to keep up with the demands of modern interplanetary communications.
SciTechDaily – DSN Upgrades: NASA’s Deep Space Network Looks to the Future

Lead Image:
70-m dish of the Goldstone Deep Space
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Odysseus Is Going to Sleep After Sending Snapshots From Moon Landing

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Intuitive Machines says it’s putting its Odysseus moon lander to bed for a long lunar night, with hopes of reviving it once the sun rises again near the moon’s south pole.

The Houston-based company and NASA recapped Odysseus’s six days of operation on the lunar surface, shared pictures showing its off-kilter configuration, and looked ahead to the mission’s next phase during a briefing today at Johnson Space Center in Texas.

The original plan called for the solar-powered spacecraft to be turned off when the sun fell below the lunar horizon, but Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus said mission controllers would instead put the Odysseus into hibernation and try restoring contact in three weeks’ time. “We are going to leave the computers and the power system in a place where we can wake it up and do this development test objective, to actually try to ping it with an antenna and see if we can’t wake it up once it gets power again,” he told reporters.

Last week, Odysseus became the first-ever commercial spacecraft to survive a descent to the lunar surface, and the first U.S.-built spacecraft to do so since NASA’s Apollo 17 mission in 1972. NASA struck a deal to pay Intuitive Machines $118 million to deliver six science instruments to the lunar surface under the terms of its Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, or CLPS.

Sue Lederer, NASA’s project scientist for CLPS at Johnson Space Center, said every one of NASA’s payloads has met “some level of their objectives, and we’re very excited about that.”

NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration, Joel Kearns, said the space agency considered the mission to be a success despite the difficulties encountered during Odysseus’ landing. He also said the mission validated NASA’s strategy of enlisting private companies to provide robotic rides to the moon.

“It’s an exciting time to be on Day 6 of this new era in the 21st century,” Kearns said.

The new era has had more than its fair share of challenges. Tim Crain, who serves as Intuitive Machines’ chief technology officer as well as Odysseus’s IM-1 mission director, said there were at least 11 do-or-die moments along the way.

One of the most critical challenges came when the mission team discovered that the lander’s laser range-finding system couldn’t be activated for the Feb. 22 landing, due to a safety lock that wasn’t deactivated before the Feb. 15 launch.

Engineers came up with what they thought would be a last-minute fix. That involved connecting one of NASA’s payloads, an experimental laser range-finding system, to Odysseus’s internal guidance system.

However, when the Odysseus team later reconstructed the events leading up to the landing, they found out that the readings from the NASA system couldn’t be processed because they lacked a required data-verification code, Crain said. Instead, the lander had to rely on its inertial measurement unit and its optical navigation system.

That appears to explain why Odysseus’s landing was rougher than expected. “The flight dynamics guys calculate that we actually came down just short of our [intended] landing site, at a higher elevation than where our landing site was going to be,” Altemus said.

As a result, Odysseus came down to the surface at a higher downward velocity, with extra sideward velocity as well. “We hit harder, and sort of skidded,” Altemus said.

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An ultra-wide-field version of an image sent back by the Odysseus moon lander during its Feb. 22 touchdown shows a landing leg breaking off and moon dirt being kicked up by engine exhaust. (Credit: Intuitive Machines)

One of the pictures released today shows Odysseus skidding to a stop, with pieces of a landing leg breaking off. “The landing gear did what it was supposed to do and protected the lander as it landed on the surface,” Altemus said.

The image also shows plumes of moon dirt spraying away from the blast of Odysseus’s engine. The lander was able to stay upright as long as its engine kept firing. “And then, as it wound
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Backpacking the Canadian Rockies: Nigel and Cataract Passes

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By Michael Lanza

A couple of hours up the Nigel Pass Trail, after a lunch break beside boulder-strewn rapids on chalky, glacially silted Nigel Creek, we pop out of forest into sub-alpine terrain with wildflowers and the kind of dense, low brush that conceals grizzly bears better than we think—enjoying our first expansive views of the peaks flanking this valley in Banff National Park. As we make our way farther up the valley, our gentle trail turns steeper, leading us up to Nigel Pass at 7,200 feet (2,195 meters), where we drink up a 360-degree panorama of tall cliffs and treeless mountainsides of broken rock in this little patch of the Canadian Rockies.

But even this barely hints at what lies ahead.

A descent of just minutes brings us to an easy rock-hop across the shallow Brazeau River, which runs milky and emerald with glacial till—and across an invisible boundary into Jasper National Park. Several other backpackers also crossing the river all continue in the direction of the well-known Brazeau Loop in Jasper. None turn in the same direction we’re hiking.

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Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-books to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

Backpackers hiking the Nigel Cataract and Cline Passes Route toward Cataract Pass in Jasper National Park, Canadian Rockies.
” data-image-caption=”Our group backpacking up the Brazeau River Valley toward Cataract Pass in Jasper National Park, Canadian Rockies.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Goat1-30-Our-group-backpacking-the-Nigel-Cataract-and-Cline-Passes-Route-toward-Cataract-Pass-in-Jasper-National-Park-Canadian-Rockies.jpg?fit=300%2C200&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Goat1-30-Our-group-backpacking-the-Nigel-Cataract-and-Cline-Passes-Route-toward-Cataract-Pass-in-Jasper-National-Park-Canadian-Rockies.jpg?fit=900%2C600&ssl=1″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Goat1-30-Our-group-backpacking-the-Nigel-Cataract-and-Cline-Passes-Route-toward-Cataract-Pass-in-Jasper-National-Park-Canadian-Rockies.jpg?resize=900%2C600&ssl=1″ alt=”Backpackers hiking the Nigel Cataract and Cline Passes Route toward Cataract Pass in Jasper National Park, Canadian Rockies.” class=”wp-image-62175″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Goat1-30-Our-group-backpacking-the-Nigel-Cataract-and-Cline-Passes-Route-toward-Cataract-Pass-in-Jasper-National-Park-Canadian-Rockies.jpg?resize=1024%2C683&ssl=1 1024w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Goat1-30-Our-group-backpacking-the-Nigel-Cataract-and-Cline-Passes-Route-toward-Cataract-Pass-in-Jasper-National-Park-Canadian-Rockies.jpg?resize=300%2C200&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Goat1-30-Our-group-backpacking-the-Nigel-Cataract-and-Cline-Passes-Route-toward-Cataract-Pass-in-Jasper-National-Park-Canadian-Rockies.jpg?resize=768%2C512&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Goat1-30-Our-group-backpacking-the-Nigel-Cataract-and-Cline-Passes-Route-toward-Cataract-Pass-in-Jasper-National-Park-Canadian-Rockies.jpg?resize=150%2C100&ssl=1 150w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Goat1-30-Our-group-backpacking-the-Nigel-Cataract-and-Cline-Passes-Route-toward-Cataract-Pass-in-Jasper-National-Park-Canadian-Rockies.jpg?w=1200&ssl=1 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Our group backpacking up the Brazeau River Valley toward Cataract Pass in Jasper National Park, Canadian Rockies.

On the river’s opposite bank, we find what seems a promising indication of what our route ahead
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Ingenuity Won’t Fly Again Because It’s Missing a Rotor Blade

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Ingenuity has been the first aerial vehicle on another world. NASA announced the end of the Martian helicopter’s life at the end of its 72nd flight. During the flight there had been a problem on landing and, following the incident a few photos revealed chips in one of the rotor blades but nothing too serious. New images have been revealed that show the craft is missing one of its rotor blades entirely! 

Mars Ingenuity was developed by NASA as a small lightweight drone that made history by becoming the first powered flight on Mars. It was part of the mission that took the Perseverance rover to Mars in February 2021.  Undertaking powered flights in the thin Martian atmosphere it demonstrated that powered flight was possible as it surveyed the surrounding area for items of interest for further exploration. 

Mars Ingenuity helicopter on the surface of Mars
Image of the Mars Ingenuity helicopter (Source : NASA)

The construction was the brainchild of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory who oversaw the construction on behalf of the agency. NASA’s Ames Research Centre and Langley Research Center played a significant role in flight performance analysis and technical support.

On board the vehicle was some cutting edge technology that was tailored for the conditions on Mars. First of course, are the rotors, the thin atmosphere on Mars mean larger than usual blades were needed to generate the lift required. It was built with lightweight materials like carbon fibre to make it as efficient as possible, new and efficient solar cells that would drive the autonomous navigation systems. It was equipped with sensors and cameras to enable data collection of the Martian terrain to send back to Perseverance rover and controllers on Earth.

Ingenuity had been flying in a terrain with few rocks – which it uses in some part for navigation – and so had been experiencing difficulties. On 6 Jan it made an emergency landing because it couldn’t accurately identify its location. It happened again on the next flight but this time it seems to have come down at an angle and struck the ground with one of its rotors. Images suggested it had suffered some chips on one of the rotor blades however, recent images reveal the damage is more severe.

On 11 Feb, NASA used the black and white navigation camera to record a video showing the shadow of the rotors turning. It was an ingenious idea by the engineers to try and understand the extent of the damage to the 1.2m blades. To their surprise the footage revealed that one fo the blades, the upper blade seems to be absent! It looks like the blade detected near the mast.

Source : Ingenuity’s Navcam Reveals a Missing Rotor Blade 

The post Ingenuity Won’t Fly Again Because It’s Missing a Rotor Blade appeared first on Universe Today.

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