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How Do NASA Rovers And Probes Communicate With Earth From So Far Away?

RJ Pierce, Tech Times

NASA conducts missions with rovers and space probes millions–and even billions–of miles away from Earth. And somehow, despite the monumental distances, these probes and rovers can still send data back to scientists on Earth. 

(Photo : Getty Images )

Have you ever wondered how NASA does it? In this article, you’ll learn about the basics of how space exploration manages to keep itself tethered to Earth. 

NASA DSN–The Main Hub 

According to NASA themselves, they’re using an international network of antennas which are part of what they call the Deep Space Network (DSN). 

The antennas are strategically placed all over the world, and they’re part of three major hubs under DSN which are located exactly 120 degrees apart. The locations are as follows: Goldstone, in the Mojave Desert in California; and undisclosed locations near Canberra, Australia, and Madrid, Spain. 

(Photo : Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

Photograph of the Deep Space Network (DSN) Beam Waveguide antennas at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex, Mojave Desert, California, 1990. Image courtesy National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

With the placement of the DSN hubs, NASA ensures that they can still track all their active space probes throughout the cosmos even as if the Earth rotates. 

Mars Rovers ‘Phoning Home’ 

That iconic line from the film “ET: The Extraterrestrial” fits this situation perfectly, even if the modern Mars rovers don’t exactly use a phone. 

According to WIRED, the rovers use two different types of antennas: a high-gain microwave antenna for sending big chunks of data directly to Earth, and a low-gain one intended for sending data to other orbiters around our world or Mars. 

Those probes will then relay the data they received from the Mars rovers back to scientists on the ground. 

(Photo : Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)

PASADENA, CA – FEBRUARY 18: In this handout image provided by NASA, members of NASA’s Perseverance rover team react as the first images arrive moments after the spacecraft successfully touched down on Mars, February 18, 2021 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The rovers are able to send data by “anticipating” when the orbiters are right above them. Once the orbiter is in the optimal position, the Mars rover will transmit data to it at a speed of 250 Kbps. 

Read also: NASA Perseverance Rover’s New Mission-Critical Images as Latest Evidence of Water’s Existence on Mars

Data Transfer Still Takes Time 

Technically, NASA is able to transmit and receive data fast enough despite the distance between Earth and Mars–over 242 million miles. However, it’s still not real-time data transfer. 

In fact, even at light speed, a signal containing data will still take over 10 minutes to reach scientists on Earth for Mars, as per the original WIRED report. 

How About Those Way Beyond In Deep Space? 

NASA technically has built two of the farthest-located, man-made space probes ever: the Voyagers. As of late, Voyager 1 is located 141 astronomical units (AUs) from Earth, writes That’s a total of 13.2 billion miles away. 

And yet, Voyager space probes (there are two of them) are still able to transmit data to scientists, even if the tech on them is technically outdated. 

(Photo : Katherine Young/Getty Images)

Illustration (by Pounds) shows one of the two Voyager spacecrafts as it examines the rings of Saturn during its ‘Grand Tour’ of the Solar System, late 1977. The two crafts were launched in late 1977 and reached Saturn in 1980 and 1980.

These space probes are using 23-watt radios connected to big satellites 14 feet in diameter, which are pointed directly at a corresponding antenna on our planet’s surface. That antenna is a gargantuan 100 feet in diameter, according to HowStuffWorks.

Furthermore, the satellite can transmit data at 8 GHz, and in space, there’s barely any interference. This might be an oversimplification, but it’s basically how things work. 

Looking Ahead 

Space exploration technology still has a lot of advancements to go through. This includes better, faster communication systems that might allow scientists to communicate with space probes or rovers on different planets in real time. 

But until then, this is the reality of current tech. 

Related: NASA: Galileo Space Probe Captures Image of Moon’s Colorful Shades

This article is owned by Tech Times 

Written by RJ Pierce 

ⓒ 2021 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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