When it comes to making a long-distance call, it's hard to top NASA's Deep Space Network. It’s the largest and most sensitive scientific telecommunications system in the world.
The Deep Space Network - or DSN - is NASA’s international array of giant radio antennas that supports interplanetary spacecraft missions, plus a few that orbit Earth. The DSN also provides radar and radio astronomy observations that improve our understanding of the solar system and the larger universe.
The DSN is operated by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which also operates many of the agency's interplanetary robotic space missions.
The DSN consists of three facilities spaced equidistant from each other – approximately 120 degrees apart in longitude – around the world. These sites are at Goldstone, near Barstow, California; near Madrid, Spain; and near Canberra, Australia. The strategic placement of these sites permits constant communication with spacecraft as our planet rotates – before a distant spacecraft sinks below the horizon at one DSN site, another site can pick up the signal and carry on communicating.
The antennas of the Deep Space Network are the indispensable link to explorers venturing beyond Earth. They provide the crucial connection for commanding our spacecraft and receiving their never before seen images and scientific information on Earth, propelling our understanding of the universe, our solar system and ultimately, our place within it.
- Goldstone Facility
(cr. Doug Ellison)
The present-day mission control room at JPL – the Space Flight Operations Facility – serves as the nerve center for NASA’s Deep Space Network. Because this control room supports many missions that expand humanity’s cosmic horizons, it is sometimes informally referred to as "the center of the Universe." (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Several times per week, the DSN antennas capture signals from the two Voyager spacecraft, which are exploring the edge of interstellar space. Their signal has a received power 20 billion times weaker than that of a digital wristwatch. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)