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Thursday, November 08, 2007

NASA Unveils New High Volume Antenna Network

Engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. showcased the new operational 18 meter near Earth Ka band Antenna Network, the first in NASA history,
during a ribbon cutting ceremony Nov. 8 at White Sands Complex, N.M.

The three antenna network was developed by engineers at Goddard to meet the growing demand for ground stations to handle the high volume of science data that is being generated by today's new satellites. The new 18 meter antennas can handle 45 terabytes of data over a 30 day period. Missions such as the Solar Dynamics Observatory and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will be the first missions to use these antennas. Future missions are expected to take advantage of the Ka band antennas as well.

Two of the three antennas will be used to accommodate the continuous high volume data stream of SDO. The third antenna will be used for LRO and will have the highest data volume stream ever received from a lunar spacecraft.

"The design, development, and delivery of three 18 meter Ka band antenna systems in just over two years is a major accomplishment for Goddard and NASA," says Raymond Pages, chief, Ground System Development Office at Goddard.

White Sands was chosen as the location for the new antennas because of the existing infrastructure available there, making it a cost effective option, NASA says. Site location selection was also dependent on climate and weather because data must be able to reach the antennas with minimal weather interference for optimum data reception and distribution.

The three antenna network represents the start of the operational near Earth Ka band network. LRO and SDO are NASA's first Ka band dedicated missions. As a result, Goddard built a new data distribution system to get the high volume of SDO science data from the antennas to the mission and science operations control centers. The two SDO antennas and the data distribution system are controlled by engineers at Goddard, and they will have the capability to flow ground system software upgrades and install software patches directly from the center. This is the first time all of these technologies have been implemented together to serve a single mission, specifically SDO. LRO has a separate data distribution system that will distribute science data from six instruments.

The goal of SDO is to understand, driving toward a predictive capability, the solar variations that influence life on Earth and humanity's technological systems. SDO is scheduled to launch in December 2008.

LRO focuses on the selection of safe landing sites, identification of lunar resources and studies how the lunar environment will affect humans. Launch is scheduled for late 2008.

Datron Advanced Technologies in Simi Valley, Calif. built the antennas. Honeywell Technology Solutions Inc. in Columbia, Md. built and assembled the ground station. The Cospal Composites Srl in Ambivere, Italy manufactured the primary reflectors. Honeywell, Datron and Goddard helped to design the antennas. Goddard manages the White Sands Complex for NASA.

The total development cost of the new antenna system is $20 million, NASA says.

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