NASA is upgrading one of the biggest deep space antennas it owns, the Deep Space Station 43 (DSS-43) located in Australia. This antenna is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network, the ‘interplanetary switchboard’ used to communicate with machinery located in space. The DSS-43 in Canberra is massive at 230ft across, making it one of the largest radio antennas on the network.
The DSS-43 is 48 years old — and, finally, it is getting some important upgrades that will be finished by early next year, according to NASA. The upgrade process started back in March, and one of the most recent changes was the installation of a new X-band frequency cone with new ultra-sensitive receivers and a top-tier transmitter system.
NASA will use this equipment to receive data from robotic missions beyond our planet, such as from the orbiter and rovers studying Mars; it also uses this network to send instructions to its robotic missions. The space agency has a number of other upgrades planned for the coming months.
Soon, the DSS-43 will get some important upgrades to its electrical and mechanical systems — as well, NASA plans to install a new water-based coolant system for the antenna. Ultimately, the components being upgraded are the ones that have aged and become ‘increasingly unreliable’ after nearly half a century of use.
As expected, the antenna is not operational during these upgrades; NASA says it hasn’t been in use since March and won’t be back online until January 2021 when it expects to finalize the upgrades.
Scientists working on NASA’s various robotic space missions can still use Deep Space Network antennas located in Spain and California with the exception of Voyager 2, the spacecraft launched in 1977. It is now so far away from Earth (11 billion miles) that it can only receive commands fro the DSS-43 due to its very powerful capabilities.