Great long read about the Deep Space Network (DSN), the system that talks (and listens) to all the space crafts. Started in late 1963, it has been supporting space craft 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for over 54 years.
The DSN has many vital roles, but one of its biggest is to serve as the communication link between Earth and its robotic emissaries in deep space — anything from the moon and beyond. Every image we’ve ever received from deep space, every relay of scientific data, even those famous words the Eagle has landed, was collected by the dishes of the Deep Space Network.
The DSN faces many challenges, but their biggest one might be the current funding crunch they are experiencing. It is hard to point to concrete benefits of the program, but the information we have learned about our solar systems and the amazing photos that have been sent back I think justify their budget of approximately $200 million a year.
It covers everything from maintaining the dishes to the ongoing upgrades to the antennas to paying the 300-plus people who work at the dishes around the world. For comparison, the total value of all the robotic missions currently in deep space is around $25 billion and growing.
For something really cool check out DSN Now to see the status of the satellite dishes at the 3 DSN locations (Goldstone, California; Madrid, Spain; and Canberra, Australia) and see which ones are actively downlinking and uplinking data in real time and to which space craft. The squiggly lines are mesmerizing.