Mars traffic jams could overwhelm NASA’s Deep Space Network

A global flotilla of latest spacecraft — orbiters and landers — is slated to reach at Mars in 2021, creating an unprecedented telecommunications problem for NASA’s Deep Area Community (DSN).

These spacecraft all want to speak with Earth en path to Mars, requiring massive quantities of telemetry and monitoring after launch after which on strategy to the crimson planet. The sheer variety of Mars-bound craft, launched by a number of nations, might stress NASA’s floor monitoring community and capabilities of worldwide companions.

Outbound site visitors

That checklist of Mars missions launching in 2020 is lengthy. It consists of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, the European Area Company’s ExoMars 2020 rover and floor platform, China’s orbiter/lander/rover, the United Arab Emirates’ Hope orbiter and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission-2. As well as, SpaceX is planning its first Crimson Dragon Mars lander in 2020, having delayed the mission from 2018.

Moreover, on the time of the brand new arrivals, numerous different missions might be wholesome and functioning in Mars orbit, together with NASA’s Odyssey orbiter, the Mars Environment and Unstable Evolution Mission (MAVEN) orbiter and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). There’s additionally ESA’s Mars Categorical orbiter and Hint Fuel Orbiter, and India’s first Mars Orbiter Mission.

Toss in for good measure NASA’s two working floor machines, the Alternative and Curiosity rovers, together with its Inside Exploration utilizing Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Warmth Transport (InSight) spacecraft. InSight will launch in Could 2018 and land on Mars six months later.

“That will be six separate arriving missions representing six totally different spacefaring organizations, encompassing 9 particular person spacecraft, together with as much as 9 different missions already in operation,” mentioned Charles Edwards, Jr., Supervisor of the Mars Relay Community Workplace and Chief Technologist for the Mars Exploration Directorate on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Detailed research

That Martian armada will put stress on the DSN, a community of huge radio antennas used to speak with Mars and different interplanetary spacecraft. Operated by JPL, the DSN consists of three services at Goldstone, close to Barstow, California; close to Madrid, Spain; and close to Canberra, Australia.

JPL is now performing an in depth research of how finest to deal with the inflow of latest probes at Mars, coupled with spacecraft now orbiting and wheeling about on the planet, most of which plan to make use of the DSN.

“The 2 intervals of most curiosity are summer season 2020, when the Mars missions are anticipated to all launch in a restricted timeframe, and early 2021, when the Mars missions will all be arriving at Mars to both land or enter Mars orbit,” mentioned Stephen Lichten of the DSN Venture, supervisor for particular tasks at JPL.

The research is delving into each nominal and off nominal situations, Lichten instructed table4. Off nominal situations, he mentioned embody spacecraft (Mars or non-Mars) anomalies that sometimes require rapid and concentrated deployment of DSN antennas to assist get well the spacecraft. Additionally, there may be points with the DSN itself, be it sudden upkeep or downtime for an antenna, uncommon climate, and energy or community outages.

“The DSN has appreciable expertise with planning for and dealing with a lot of these sudden occurrences, and whereas they aren’t frequent, we all know roughly how typically to anticipate them, so we are able to plan for them in a probabilistic method,” Lichten mentioned.

The DSN has documented processes for triaging these conditions, Lichten mentioned. “Nonetheless, the sheer variety of Mars and non-Mars missions that will probably be lively in 2020 and 2021 places us in one thing of a brand new regime, so we’re re-examining present procedures and there will probably be variations as obligatory,” he mentioned.

Capability issues

The onslaught of so many Mars missions raises a number of points, mentioned Bruce Jakosky, the principal investigator of MAVEN on the College of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Area Physics in Boulder.

“There are two points right here. The primary is find out how to take care of relaying knowledge from the assorted floor property again to Earth,” Jakosky instructed table4. “It’s not clear what orbiting relay property will probably be operational at the moment, however on the face of it isn’t clear that it’s ample to satisfy the wants.”

The second concern is communications with Earth through the DSN, Jakosky mentioned. With so many orbiters working, it isn’t apparent how the DSN will deal with simultaneous two-way communications with all of them, he mentioned.

There’s a want that Odyssey and MRO will nonetheless function communication relays, Jakosky mentioned. Nonetheless, each spacecraft, in Mars orbit since 2001 and 2006 respectively, will probably be outdated by then.

“MAVEN ought to nonetheless be working, we hope, however we’re nonetheless analyzing what our relay capabilities will probably be and from what orbit. Plus, MAVEN has a set antenna and doesn’t have the aptitude of concurrently doing relay service and finishing up its personal science,” Jakosky mentioned, a state of affairs not like the opposite orbiters.

Growing old property

Lockheed Martin Area Programs in Littleton, Colorado, operates the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Odyssey and MAVEN spacecraft through a Mission Help Space.

In keeping with Man Beutelschies, the forthcoming flood of latest Mars orbiters and landers represents each a problem and alternative.

“Now we have been working orbiters constantly out at Mars for 20 years now and we’re nonetheless studying find out how to finest present help for different missions,” Beutelschies mentioned. The corporate additionally has a historical past of dealing with entry, descent and touchdown on the planet, such because the Phoenix Mars lander that touched down in Could 2008 and the soon-to-fly InSight spacecraft.

As for any threshold of spacecraft the corporate’s Mission Help Space can maintain, “it’s all a stability… and there’s solely a finite period of time and bandwidth to the Deep Area Community,” Beutelschies mentioned. “We’re actually prepared to help as a lot as we are able to, however understand that the three NASA orbiters are nonetheless returning a ton of science.”

ESA’s ExoMars Hint Fuel Orbiter that entered Mars orbit in October 2016 carries two relay radios offered by NASA. That {hardware} was examined at Lockheed Martin Area Programs services, Beutelschies mentioned, to guarantee relay compatibility in passing knowledge forwards and backwards between Mars and Earth.

“There is no such thing as a substitute for testing. It’s extraordinarily worthwhile to undergo that course of. We realized lots on each side,” Beutelschies mentioned.

Dealing with the site visitors

As for the approaching Mars telecommunication site visitors in 2020 and 2021, JPL’s Edwards mentioned there’s an absolute must multinationally combine the flexibility to obtain and add knowledge from orbiters and landers.

Key to this has been the efforts of each NASA’s DSN and ESA’s ESTRACK floor antennas, and the broader worldwide group, to determine interoperable area communications protocols, Edwards mentioned.

Plans name for providing DSN help to NASA, ESA, SpaceX, the United Arab Emirates and Indian Mars missions on this time-frame, Edwards mentioned, based mostly on these interoperable companies.

The DSN has additionally not too long ago rolled out new strategies comparable to “A number of Spacecraft per Aperture,” JPL’s Lichten mentioned, enabling as many as 4 spacecraft to be tracked concurrently when they’re in shut proximity within the sky. That permits a higher variety of missions to be supported with the bottom property obtainable, he mentioned.

“We are able to additionally work with the interplanetary missions, each NASA and non-NASA, to regulate launch or arrival dates to attempt to keep away from having too many important occasions in a short while interval,” Lichten mentioned.

JPL’s Edwards instructed table4 that the closest the DSN has come previously to this depth of site visitors was in 2003 and 2004. In that point interval, NASA delivered the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Alternative across the identical time as ESA’s Mars Categorical orbiter and Beagle 2 lander. They arrived whereas NASA’s Mars International Surveyor and Odyssey spacecraft had been already orbiting the planet.

“That was a busy interval, and on the time represented a stressing mission help situation on our communication and navigation capabilities,” Edwards mentioned, “however clearly this 2020-2021 time-frame is at one other stage altogether.”

This text seems within the April 24, 2017, challenge with the headline “Mars’ looming site visitors jam.”

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