'The Invisible Network' Podcast - Episode 12: Reconnaissance
In two thousand and five NASA launched the Mars reconnaissance orbiter to survey the Red Planet at the time. The camera on board was the largest gist ever flown on a planetary mission. This allowed the orbiter to identify hazards. That could harm. Landers and Rovers additionally the orbiter's bidders imaging spectrometer searched for water features prospecting for resources and searching for evidence that water once filled the barren Martian landscape in addition to its science mission the spacecraft acted as a communications link relaying high resolution science data from Rovers on the Red Ed planet's surface. This is a common secondary purpose. For Martian science orbiters Mars Global Surveyor and two thousand in one Mars Odyssey two previous orbiters also acted as relays more recently the Mars atmosphere and volatile evolution mission. Shen or may then completed Arrow breaking maneuvers to tighten its orbit around Mars enabling it to act as a communications relay for the upcoming Mars. Twenty any twenty rover part of NASA's Mars exploration program a long term effort of robotic exploration of the Red Planet. The Rover has the potential official to answer key questions about the potential for life on Mars. Much of that data will flow through Maven closer to earth NASA and commercial title industry have extensive robust communications infrastructure as launched services become more accessible constellations of relay satellites relates around Earth. Become more and more common terrestrial. Connectivity is near instantaneous and omnipresent however the challenges of launching satellites to Mars doesn't allow for such a robust network of services. Martian satellites are few and must be jacks of all trades not dedicated communication satellites. Like those we enjoy on earth but whatever the future what of the not so distant tomorrow when launches tomorrow are commonplace. What could a Martian communications network look like a thousand years into the future? What network will support human exploration of the Red Planet? I'm Danny Baird. This is the invisible network. There are some words that stick with you words that a teacher through your way and stuck in your brain for far longer than the test you studied I need four required. Most of mine came in the small brightly colored books of Vocabulary Pass to students at the beginning of the school year each year or had a new color a new list of interesting words to study and learn. I don't know if they still use those books but I hope they do. I loved them. They informed the decisions that led me here reading words off a page words. I found somewhere within myself. I don't often use the words I found than those workbooks but many found their way into the recesses of my mind popping out of my mouth opportune moments surprising me with their eloquence. Some had interesting interesting subtleties of meaning. That couldn't be expressed with any other word. Some made me feel pretentious precocious potent. Some were just fun to say. Say those words often seem to have a French origin. There was nothing June about this Potpourri of words Sung meant a cool composure. Speaking at transported me to a smoke filled salon with the likes of Dali Picasso Rendezvous Mental Meeting or encounter writing it in my day planner filled the hours with elegance and maturity reconnaissance. Meant surveillance whispering at filled childish games of capture. The flag with added Intrigue One probably most encounters that last word reconnaissance in espionage or warcraft. You hear the word. In historical war films films presumably featuring a soldier patrolling behind enemy lines a pilot flying high over hostile airspace or a covert submarine slipping deep deep below. Rival worships. Nassar's reconnaissance satellites like the Mars reconnaissance. Orbiter don't have national security in mind in in fact they don't even fly over earth reconnaissance of the sort that NASA performs has no opponent in mind except the unknown as we turn. Our eyes is once again to the moon in venture beyond to Mars the more we understand these destinations the less hostile they will be to our astronauts but in this episode. I'm not concerned with literal reconnaissance. Previous NASA missions to Mars had done their jobs providing NASA with an understanding of the Martian terrain our astronauts will encounter rather. I'm curious about a more limited reconnaissance one trapped between the waking speaking world and a dreamlike tomorrow when NASA communications engineers look at the vast topography of Mars this dusty celestial stranger. You're what sort of networks do they map onto. It's barren surfaces. What follows is an interview with Joseph Laszio chief scientists of the Interplanetary Network Network Directorate at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory which manages Nastase Deep Space Network? The Deep Space Network is a collection of three ground stations with massive passive antennas strategically placed around the globe to communicate with spacecraft almost anywhere in deep space the network insurance communications for many lunar missions ends with Mars with the voyager missions beyond the influence of our son and many other spacecraft. I've asked Lasi about innovations and technologies that will enable Carr's immediate goals in deep space. But I've also done some reconnaissance. I've asked him to stretch his imagination into the far future plumbing. His imagination Asian for what a Martian communications network might look like hundreds of years from now enjoy. What is your name your role at? Jpl My name. Is Joseph Law Zeo. Although almost everybody knows me as Joe and my role at JPL is. I'm the chief scientist of the part of of JPL called the Interplanetary Network Directorate and among other things we managed NASA Deep Space Network for NASA. What does that role entail Fascinating diversity of projects the deep space network DOC. As as we'll discuss momentarily is responsible for enabling us a whole suite of missions both for NASA and for International Space Agencies. He's and so I think about all aspects of how can we get more science Either from the spacecraft missions or from other things with with the the antennas in the deep space network and what role and to JPL. It was a it was an opportune time I my background is radio. Astronomy Ronnie and the deep space network. The foundation of the deep space network is a series of large essentially radio antennas and in the past if they have done working in radio astronomy so that influence of knowing some aspects about radio technology radio frequency technology. Some the possible science applications and then just Looking to the future possible projects that at the time. JPL was contemplating be involved in so on a on a basic level. What is the deep space network? What does it architecture look like? The deep space network is the set of currently radio. Antennas that NASA NASA uses to enable a whole suite of missions across the solar system and beyond there are three complexes of antennas One is is located in Goldstone. California which is maybe a third of the way between Los Angeles and Las Vegas One is located in Madrid just outside outside Madrid. Spain and one is located just outside Cambra Australia Each complex has four antennas us one very large seventy meter antenna and then three relatively smaller thirty four meter ties But even thirty four meter antenna. If you've ever stood next to one it's it's an impressive piece of engineering machinery. And these these complexes are set up. They're almost equidistant in longitude so each was about one hundred twenty degrees apart Which means that no matter where a spacecraft is in the solar system it can always see Out least one on. ESPN TANA for receiving commands from earth and then transmitting data. Back and what sort of missions does the network currently support indicated it supports Abel's missions everywhere across the solar system. And in fact if you if you simply do a web search on DS and now now there's a website that allows you to view in real time. What date are coming down or what commands are being sent up from various base crop up looking at speak and just to give you ample of the suite of of missions that is is enabled by the Sun in Madrid there is is Data be coming down from Soho which is a joint European NASA mission to study the Sun there are data coming down from Juno which is the spacecraft orbiting Jupiter at Goldstone Currently Mars is overhead at Goldstone so there are two antennas. Actually that are hi. There transmitting commands or receiving data from four different spacecraft for landers at Mars There's also a data coming down from Sean Ryan to. which is the Indian mission at the moon and Canberra Dare coming down currently from Voyager. Two which is actually actually spacecraft outside the solar system and It's actually coming down to seventy meters so it's an illustration of just how how much science the the network enables so. That's a lot of different missions. What sort of services do you offer them the DSM it provides three essential capabilities? They go by the names telemetry tracking and command often. Because it's NASA of course we need a acronym so often abbreviated to TNC PNC Telemetry is the Thing about which most people probably Have the most direct connection so you've ever seen a picture sure of planet. Undoubtedly that picture has come down through one or more antennas in the network and telemetry is that process in which the spacecraft transmits a signal or transmits data or an image from its Antenna from its system and then it's received by one or more. DSM Nintendo so the telemetry is when the spacecraft sends data down to the earth. DOWN TO US command. The C part is when scientist inches stir operators on the ground are sending commands up to a spacecraft to do something Take a picture. Gather some kind of data change its trajectory slightly lightly and then finally tracking the Middle T. is for trying to figure out where the spacecraft is on this guy or where the space craft is in space at and of course this is a particularly essential aspect with spacecraft is going from Earth to a destination we want to keep it on track as it were and the and ensure that it's actually going along the trajectory that will get it to its intended destination. And how is the network growing support the optimist missions to the Moon in the near your term One of the plans or actually the plan is for the network to continue to expand. As I said earlier. There are one. There is one seventy wendy meter at each complex and then three thirty four meter antennas each complex and the objective is to continue to build out thirty four meter. Antennas Antennas over the next five years so that each complex has four Thirty four meters in fact there are two thirty four meter. Antennas antennas currently under construction at Madrid In various states state construction and then there are there is one planned at Goldstone own for which construction will be starting relatively soon. They're already doing site surveys. Trying to figure out exactly where Next to the other three thirty four meters the fourth will go. And there's a plan for th one four Canberra Sort of middle of of next decade in the middle of the twenty twenties and we fat. Then there'll be numerous thirty four meters which will allow very high data rates down from The space craft at or on the surface purpose to the moon or around the surface of beyond the arguments missions whatever current goals for growing the deep space networks capabilities. I just in fact I just sort of Summarized one which which is it's broader than of course just Artemis An essential aspect is arduous but Of course having more antennas enables else not only more crewed missions with humans on board but more robotic missions to other nations in the solar system One of the essential essential aspects is to try to increase the radio frequency at which commander sent and data are received There's there's an fundamental relationship. Between how much data one can transmit and the frequency the radio frequency at which the commands are sent or the the data received and on on top of that things like cellphones and Five G. and and other such uses of radio waves are causing increasing facing congestion and in the radio spectrum. So we're the the deep space network And now send general with like missions to move to higher frequencies So can transmit and receive more data in the near term that's focused on radio wavelengths radio frequencies Looking a little bit farther ahead one. One of the goals is to transition to laser communications actually sending laser laser beams back and forth and again. This is all focused on the idea that as we go to higher frequency so Like eat lasers are higher frequencies than radio we can transmit more data. It's it's kind of equivalent to using fiber optics if you will without the fibers Across the solar system and that should enable even higher data rates and and in the near term in fact some of the thirty the existing thirty four meter antennas in the future what and some of the future ones to be constructed. They may very well become both with radio. Antennas and Optical Telescopes Essentially integrated optical radio with the idea that you can use them either for radio communications for existing spacecraft or maybe in the future laser or optical communications for for new spacecraft. So those those are the key technologies. uh-huh both moving to higher radio frequencies and that ultimately two laser communications is it a challenge maintaining operational network while also implementing these new technologies Sundays. Of course yes Truly in the case when one is retrofitting antennas so adding an optical or laser capability l'idee to an existing radio capability. It's very much like trying to Do an upgrade to a car or replace or Improve something on a car while it's being driven and so always has to keep in mind that there are existing spacecraft out there With technology allergy. You can't change the spacecraft of course so you have to be very careful not to do something that would disrupt a current spacecraft well enabling capability for new spacecraft craft and perhaps the ultimate example of that is our voyager spacecraft the two voyager spacecraft they were launched in nineteen seventy seven so anything it does has to respect and and be backwards compatible with the kinds of things that Were being done in the late. Seventy and turning them into the far future of deep space exploration A. What unique challenges do you think? The networks of a hundred thousand years from must face that's a fascinating question and my my initial thought was predicting that far Out His incredibly challenging Of course I have the benefit that any predictions I make my won't be around to figure what if I'm right or not but I thought about this in the sense of maybe the best way to imagine what communications might be like in the distant future is to look to how communications were done in the distant past and if we think back say say two thousand years to the Roman Republic And I guess the year nineteen eighty or eighty nineteen was kind of it was at the end of the it was well. After the end of the Roman Republic in the beginning of the Roman Empire the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire did a very good job of building essentially high capacity roads between major cities and my expectation is that that act kind of architecture is likely to remain even into the far future so if one wants to If one wanted to transmit data data between Rome and Ravenna or Rome and Brindisi there were major roads. That ran along Italy or along the Italian Peninsula Tesla for transport of materials and of course communications. Today we've we know how to aren't as light or radio waves in a way that the Romans didn't But they still had an architecture in which one moved massive amounts wants of material and communications along these essentially what you would think of as backbones or trunk lines The you know. That's the Lingo Lingo that we use today a backbone or trunk line In two thousand years ago it was a a road but the idea was you have these very high capacity acidy Trunk lines or ways of communicating between major population areas. And then the the information with spread out from there Sort of analogously. I'm sitting in Pasadena you're in the Washington DC area. There's not a line that runs is between us. What will happen is there's like to be a a very high capacity communication line between say Los Angeles in Washington? DC and and our conversation is going from Pasadena to somewhere in Los Angeles along this high-capacity line from Los Angeles to Washington and then from Washington to where you're sitting and that's analogous to how the Romans did it. It's analogous to how the INCA empire did it Sort of five hundred years ago. There were major ager roads so if I look a thousand years out and I imagine colonies on Mars and maybe maybe even mining colonies on asteroids. I would imagine that there will be these very high capacity trunk lines or back. Communication backbones probably enabled by by laser communications And then they'll be smaller networks Around the hub. Points that final communication. They'll be high-capacity. A high capacity between say Earth and Mars and it'll spread out from the Very communication points at Mars to the individual Martian in colonies and same for major cities. Are you find that NASA and JPL are uniquely situated to do the long term technology Makita not realizing something like a network a thousand years from now the key aspect for NASA and just one of the great things about the agency is that we can think fifty years in the future We can think A century in in the future so getting some of the the robotic missions alone the one contemplates people are thinking about Geez. What what would we be doing? Or what should we be doing Twenty years from now and similarly people are mapping. Now how would how would humans potentially. What's the first trip to Mars? Look like and and and how would that work but of course the long term goal is not just to go to Mars and then come back along. The the goal for the moon is not just to go to the Moon Comeback Eh to establish long-term human presence on the moon and ultimately only human presence on Mars. In order to do that. You really do have to think. Think about well what is what are the logistics. What are the infrastructure? What does that look like? And you have to start thinking about these things. Sometimes it's twenty or fifty years in the future and some of the details might turn out to be not exactly what was planned Initially but if you don't start thinking now just just the whole process of building the rockets and Doing the missions If you don't start now then you end up behind the curve and so now is one of those places that enables enabled us to think really long term forces us to think really long term about how to do things and then accordingly once you start saying well. Here's how we think we would do it. You have to start investing in those technologies and of course in some cases those technologies. Don't pay off for twenty or forty years but the very basic technologies being developed today or things. The grandchildren might enjoy the fruits of and I suppose my last question is what excites you. Most about the future of space communications or the future the space exploration in general of course the two aren't linked right because without the communications there is no exploration. It's no no use sending a spacecraft off if you don't get the data back if you don't get the communications back or if you don't have communications with the future. What excites me? is well multiple things I imagined. There's there's a lot of interest in exploring the other oceans in the solar system. We know that there are Now at least a half a dozen bodies in the solar system that have oceans some of them have more water in their oceans than the your those moons is like Europa Jupiter enceladus at Saturn. And you know there's just yours. Oceans are fascinating so oh what must be the oceans at these other places they must be w fascinating We are currently monitoring our own our home planet it with constellations of spacecraft. Lots of space craft other taking pictures and making measurements. I'd very much like to see a future in which we're doing data other planets as well in which were monitoring and perhaps we'll need to do so for a future Mars colony or set of colonies monitoring. Those was planet the same way we do earth. My own background is astronomy so I look forward to much more capable observatories something like Nastase. Chandra Chandra telescope NASA's Hubble telescope. Maybe a future radio telescope but much bigger and much more capable Looking at planets around nearby stars ars to the edges of the observable universe and again those are just fascinating possibilities and in space exploration And won't be possible without continuing advances in communication so that we can not only bill say much. Larger telescopes are much more capable. Oh a robotic spacecraft but also get the the important data back from them. That's amazing Thank you so much for your time. Kurt my pleasure. When I e mailed lousy requesting an interview I sent him an early draft of the opening to this episode? He had some thoughts on the connections between the word reconnaissance and the exercise of dreaming up the future of space communications. He wrote what you're describing seems to be more projection projection from the Latin Pro Kerry or throw forth. The sense is both in the standard usage of projecting into the future. But also we've talked about how communications allows us to extend ourselves in a virtual sense. He went on to add that the simple act of video jio conferencing with him could be interpreted as an example of this sort of projection as we journey together to the Moon Mars and beyond joining joining brave astronauts on distant celestial bodies through video links with earth. I'm so confident. In the power this agency has to throw are west fourth boldly into the unknown with scientists and engineers like Laszio. Driving us towards the future. Tomorrow will become come. A word of the past in this season of invisible network debuted in November twenty nineteen. The podcast is produced by the space communications and Navigation Program Or scan out of Goddard space flight center in Greenbelt Maryland. Episodes were written and recorded by me. Danny Baird with editorial support from from Matthew. Peters are public affairs officers are Peter Jacobs of Goddard's office communications Claire Skelly of the Space Technology Mission Directorate and Catherine Hamilton of the human exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. Special thanks to Barbara Addy Scan Policy and Strategic Communications Director Rob Garner Goddard web team lead Amber Jacobson communications lead for scan gutter and all those who have lent their time talent talent and expertise to making the invisible network a reality be sure to rate review and subscribe to the show. Wherever you get your podcasts? For transcripts of the episodes visit NASA dot Gov slash invisible to learn more about the vital role that space communications plays Nasr's mission visit NASA dot gov slash scam.