Interstellar Communications and Navigation

  • Paul Gilster


At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Space Flight Operations Center one day in 2003, the communications traffic arriving from NASA’s Deep Space Network was intense but not atypical. Any nation with interplanetary spacecraft to be monitored rents time on the network, whose terrestrial tracking stations pluck the data out of the sky and distribute them as needed. Twelve thousand dollars a minute will buy you DSN access, a nontrivial but essential price to pay for keeping a spacecraft healthy. On this sunny Pasadena morning, the Center was also tracking a number of missions run by JPL itself. The Galileo spacecraft was speeding away from an encounter with Jupiter’s moon Amalthea, a digital display counting time upward from the event on a screen overlooking the room. Another timer counted down the launch of SIRTF, the Space Infrared Telescope Facility, which would take place some seventy-five days later. A continuously updating screen tracked the DSN’s schedule, a marker for each antenna intersecting the colored lines marking different spacecraft on the chart.


Very Long Baseline Interferometry European Space Agency Deep Space Mars Global Surveyor Nearby Star 
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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2004

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  • Paul Gilster

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