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NASA Revamps Historic 4-Million-kg Mars Antenna

Soulskill posted about 4 years ago | from the we're-gonna-need-a-bigger-bumper dept.

NASA 66

coondoggie writes NASA is working on some difficult renovations to reinvigorate its 70-meter-wide 'Mars antenna.' The antenna, a key cog in NASA's Deep Space Network, needs about $1.25M worth of what NASA calls major, delicate surgery. The revamp calls for lifting the antenna — about 4 million kilograms of finely tuned scientific instruments — to a height of about 5 millimeters so workers can replace the steel runner, walls and supporting grout."

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66 comments

In other news, Apple is happy. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32955766)

Antenna problems are not specific to the iphone.

Re:In other news, Apple is happy. (1)

KarrdeSW (996917) | about 4 years ago | (#32955816)

The revamp calls for lifting the antenna [...] to a height of about 5 millimeters

They should really avoid holding it that way.

Okay! I hadn't made used the joke yet! It can die now.

Re:In other news, Apple is happy. (5, Funny)

Flea of Pain (1577213) | about 4 years ago | (#32955896)

I hadn't made used the joke yet!.

In Soviet Russia, joke hadn't made used YOU!

Re:In other news, Apple is happy. (0, Offtopic)

SnarfQuest (469614) | about 4 years ago | (#32956900)

They should really avoid holding it that way.

OK, try to think of something besides porn.... Nope, not gonna happen.

Re:In other news, Apple is happy. (0, Offtopic)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | about 4 years ago | (#32955886)

Man, that joke was so clever and insightful, did you RTFA to come up with it?

Re:In other news, Apple is happy. (2, Insightful)

Peach Rings (1782482) | about 4 years ago | (#32956054)

That was a really stupid quote too:

The ubiquitous antenna was all the buzz last week as Apple tried to squelch the latest glitch in its popular iPhone. But those antenna issues have nothing on the renovations NASA is taking on to reinvigorate its 70-meter-wide (230-foot-wide) "Mars antenna."

X will get us better search rankings. But x has nothing to do with this story, which involves...

Re:In other news, Apple is happy. (1)

mangu (126918) | about 4 years ago | (#32957016)

X will get us better search rankings. But x has nothing to do with this story, which involves...

Johnny had a tip that the science examination would have a question about penguins, so he memorized every little fact about them. Come the exam day, there was only one question: "write all you know about the Amazon region"

Johnny wrote:
"The Amazon is a region where there are no penguins, which are aquatic, flightless birds of the order Sphenisciformes, family Spheniscidae, ... etc, etc "

Re:In other news, Apple is happy. (0, Troll)

Khyber (864651) | about 4 years ago | (#32958864)

"Man, that joke was so clever and insightful, did you RTFA to come up with it?"

No, it was plainly and clearly tattooed across your mother's wide-load ass.

Re:In other news, Apple is happy. (1)

pgmrdlm (1642279) | about 4 years ago | (#32955898)

Use the Consumer Reports suggestion. Duct Tape.

Re:In other news, Apple is happy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32957650)

haw haw haw. You lose 5 intarweb points for unoriginality.

houston, we have a solution (1)

escay (923320) | about 4 years ago | (#32955864)

need help repairing the antenna? This might help! [etsy.com]

Just remember (-1, Offtopic)

OzPeter (195038) | about 4 years ago | (#32955918)

To keep your fingers out of the gap!

As an aside when I was reading Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed [wikipedia.org] there was a bit on the Easter Island statues that made the builders seem all too human(rather than strange people who carved weird heads). Jared talked about someone lifting up one of the statues and finding a finger bone underneath it. At that point I could just imagine the hapless native going "D'oh" (in his own language) when the rest of his work party dropped the damn statue on his hand.

iPhone (2, Insightful)

blhack (921171) | about 4 years ago | (#32955946)

What the hell does this have to do with the iPhone and its antenna?

Dear Journalists,

Referencing anything to do with the iPhone in an attempt to sound hip and relevant just makes you look stupid.

Signed,
Blhack

Re:iPhone (1)

tom17 (659054) | about 4 years ago | (#32956740)

It's a *four* million Kg antenna and it's the iPhone *four*.

The Gordon Freeman Method (3, Insightful)

danbert8 (1024253) | about 4 years ago | (#32955978)

Might I suggest a crowbar. That's what I used for all my scientific research in Half Life. You could probably use one to lift the thing up a few millimeters.

Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (3, Insightful)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | about 4 years ago | (#32956008)

So they're only revamping one out of three of the 70-m DSN antennae? I hope that they plan to do Canberra and Madrid, too. You need all three of them to get good 24-hr coverage. Actually, we need more of them. There are just too many missions needing 70-m time to downlink data right now. And nothing was sadder than watching good observations (which were otherwise totally possible) get killed because some other mission had priority on the big dishes.

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (2, Interesting)

bruce_the_loon (856617) | about 4 years ago | (#32956794)

Maybe only this one is experiencing the problems with the bearing surface at this point.

I agree we need more antennae for this work, especially with the increase in probes that NASA is supposed to be making.

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | about 4 years ago | (#32957682)

Entirely possible, yep. It would have been nice if the story had commented, though.

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (3, Insightful)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | about 4 years ago | (#32957236)

I think a better solution is to implement store and forward, and start having craft in orbit that can queue data from deep space craft. You can than downlink it at your leisure without worrying either about contention issues on the 70-meters or a gust of wind causing a bit of data to go missing.

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (1)

TheRedDuke (1734262) | about 4 years ago | (#32957388)

Cost being a hot topic in the Space Race these days, one would have to ask: is it cheaper to build a relay to put in orbit, or to repair and/or build additional antennae on the ground for these purposes? Given how expenisve it is to service Hubble and the ISS (the shuttle costs $450m to launch, average payload is serveral thousand $ per lb), I suspect the latter would be cheaper.

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | about 4 years ago | (#32957446)

If you can piggyback on something you're sending up to the right orbit anyway, the cost can be somewhat competitive. Having more ground stations means more land in places that have to be friendly, labor, parts, etc.

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | about 4 years ago | (#32957636)

You're still paying the cost for the launch. To simply put something into orbit is around $10,000/kg. That's Earth orbit, getting it to Saturn is even more expensive. I'm pretty sure that you'd be lucky to do it for under a few tens of millions of dollars, probably more in the hundreds.

Even if you did it, you still have to downlink the data to Earth at some point. And now you're still contending for the dishes. Yes, you can be more flexible as to when you downlink and you could even use a 35-m dish (which are more abundant), but they're still too few in number for the missions we fly/want to fly.

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | about 4 years ago | (#32958502)

If that's the case, let's start building some dishes.

DTN is your answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32957914)

And, indeed, this is EXACTLY the direction we're heading at NASA. However, bear in mind that most satellites have very limited on board memory, and store and forward relay has really only been used since the MER missions. Before then, it was considered too risky.

There are deep space missions that go places with no convenient relay satellite, also (e.g. Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto)

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (1)

apoc.famine (621563) | about 4 years ago | (#32959660)

You fund placing a 70m antenna in space, and everyone will call you a hero.

There is a reason the antenna needs to be that size, and there's a reason they are on earth...

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | about 4 years ago | (#32960376)

Japan just successfully launched and deployed a solar sail satellite with the sail having a surface area of 650 sq. ft.

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/06/solar-sail-deployment/ [wired.com]

Hard? Yes. Impossible? No.

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | about 4 years ago | (#32963316)

A solar sail isn't an antenna. An antenna has to be much more rigid in order to accurately reflect the radio waves to the receiver. It's apples and oranges.

In any case, you're talking about an 8-m sail, a far cry from a 70-m dish.

And no one said it was impossible. But possible and smart are far from identical concepts.

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 4 years ago | (#32959922)

I think a better solution is to implement store and forward, and start having craft in orbit that can queue data from deep space craft.

The problem is that the equipment required to receive and process the faint signals involved isn't trivial, neither is the antenna required. It would pretty much be beyond the current state-of-the-art.
 

You can than downlink it at your leisure without worrying either about contention issues on the 70-meters or a gust of wind causing a bit of data to go missing.

No, instead you'll worry about contention issues on the satellite, or a solar storm causing a bit of data to go missing, or the entire bird going dead and being beyond the reach of repair.

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | about 4 years ago | (#32960392)

Is the equipment significantly different than the radio gear on the TDRS satellite?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracking_and_Data_Relay_Satellite [wikipedia.org]

I can't imagine the gear is *that* much different than NASA's other in-space relay satellites, or even Iridium satellites for that matter (considering that they're not just dumb pipes).

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | about 4 years ago | (#32960406)

Forgot to include this from the wiki article:

"Working solo, TDRS-1 provided more communication coverage, in support of the September 1983 Shuttle mission, than the entire network of NASA tracking stations had provided in all previous Shuttle missions."

While not a rocket scientist, I do have an EE degree and have worked with quite a bit of radio equipment. I'm sure it would be possible for TDRS satellites to handle store and forward if it was thought about during the design phase.

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 4 years ago | (#32960670)

Yes, it's considerably different - DSN is much more sensitive (because of the lower incoming signal strength), with considerably higher pointing accuracy and much more signal processing capability (to pick up said faint signals from the background noise). DSN also has far more transmitting power in order to ensure sufficient signal strength at the receiving end.

Iridium and TDRS aren't dumb pipes, no. But they're not anywhere near the class or capability of the the DSN antennas either.

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (1)

petermgreen (876956) | about 4 years ago | (#32960908)

start having craft in orbit
Craft in orbit where?

If you mean craft in orbit arround earth the trouble is it's hard to put huge antennas in space. In general antenna gain is related to physical size and antenna gain is important for long distance work because (unlike amplifier gain) it makes the antenna pick up more signal without making it pick up more noise (assuming noise is equal in all directions)

If you mean craft in orbit around the target planet then you still need to downlink the data to a big antennae on earth. You just may be able to be more flexible about when you do it.

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | about 4 years ago | (#32963500)

How about in orbit at a Lagrange point? Wide open view, and fairly stable, so less need for propellant for station keeping.

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (1)

RocketRabbit (830691) | about 4 years ago | (#32959522)

We're winding down the big fun space program for a while, so I would imagine a lot of really neat stuff is going to rust away.

Hell, we are so pathetic that we will be riding bitch with the Ruskies into space for a while here.

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | about 4 years ago | (#32959752)

There are currently no plans that I know of to scale back the unmanned space program. (The opposite, if anything.) So your sort of grousing in the wrong place.

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32960474)

Oh they have to remember that in Canberra & Madrid it's not 4 million kilograms, its 4,000 tonnes. Bit sick of the "big-numbers-of-pounds-to-make-it-sound-like-really-really-heavy" syndrome so please don't try it with the metric system, OK.

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (1)

lxs (131946) | about 4 years ago | (#32962272)

Can't we simply call it 4 Gigagrams?

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (1)

rrohbeck (944847) | about 4 years ago | (#32960904)

Just don't break the other DSN dishes while Goldstone is being worked on...
"What's going on??? Tracking station forty three, Canberra, come in, Canberra! Tracking station sixty three, can you hear me, Madrid? Can anybody hear me? Come in, come in!"

Re:Just Goldstone is Being Worked On? (1)

j-b0y (449975) | about 4 years ago | (#32961446)

Robledo (Madrid) was done a few years back - they had to replace the bearings IIRC. In fact it was largely due to the work on DSS63 at Robledo that NASA started to look at the DSS14.

We had to do this with a 7 million kg antenna (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32956132)

We had to go through this with a 7 million kilogram antenna at the Green Bank Telescope:

http://www.gb.nrao.edu/gbt/track.shtml [nrao.edu]

The original azimuth track wore down too quickly, apparently due to faulty materials, workmanship, etc. You can see photos of the scope rotating out of the way sections of the track could be replaced at a time.

Re:We had to do this with a 7 million kg antenna (2, Informative)

mbone (558574) | about 4 years ago | (#32957306)

You use a track on the GBT, but the 70 meters use a large horizontal bearing. These are Apollo era antennae, old enough that they were originally pointed with a internal ha-dec antenna model as an analogue computer (as was the old 140 foot at Greenbank). They really need to be replaced.

Happened where I work (4, Informative)

mangu (126918) | about 4 years ago | (#32957338)

I work at a commercial communications satellite company and we have an old earth station with a 32 meter antenna that's rarely used today, but we still keep it as a backup. Actually, the cost of bringing it down is more than the scrap value, so it's mostly just standing there.

What nobody realized was that the antenna had been tracking a single geostationary satellite for decades, so it was moving very slightly around one position. Geostationary satellites aren't exactly stationary, but close, there's a slight movement around a central point.

The result was that, when they tried to point the antenna to a different satellite they found that the circular steel rail had been cold-rolled over the years so each wheel was sitting in a small valley in the rail. The azimuth motor didn't have enough torque to get off that valley and point the antenna to a different position, although there was no problem in tracking a satellite in the old position.

The solution was to jack up the whole antenna, cut off a section of rail and weld a new piece of rail beneath each wheel. The trickiest part was grinding the rail so that the new parts were perfectly aligned.

Re:Happened where I work (2, Interesting)

mangu (126918) | about 4 years ago | (#32960250)

Just to mention another interesting detail, this earth station [google.com] I mentioned has Wernher von Braun's signature in the visitor's book.

4 million kilograms (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32956382)

4 million kilograms; why can't we just use metric as it was intended?

4 Gigagrams.

Re:4 million kilograms (1)

lemur3 (997863) | about 4 years ago | (#32956728)

what is with this metric stuff? This is NASA, right? 'million kilograms' 'meter-wide'?

why didnt they just list the $1.25M cost in EUROS?

Re:4 million kilograms (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32956862)

Ahem [wikipedia.org] ...

_AC

Re:4 million kilograms (1)

confused one (671304) | about 4 years ago | (#32957402)

METRIC! How about a proper unit of measure: 2200 Olds Vista Cruisers.

Re:4 million kilograms (2, Funny)

Existential Wombat (1701124) | about 4 years ago | (#32957982)

4 million kilograms; why can't we just use metric as it was intended?

4 Gigagrams.

4 nano hellagrams

Re:4 million kilograms (3, Funny)

plague911 (1292006) | about 4 years ago | (#32959670)

2 oprah winfreys?

Re:4 million kilograms (1)

hoskeri (948924) | about 4 years ago | (#32961240)

1.5 Your Moms?

Re:4 million kilograms (1)

melikamp (631205) | about 4 years ago | (#32959918)

Base ten is so second millennium. Now it's all about 15625/4096 gibigrams.

This is NASA we're talking about (1)

PPH (736903) | about 4 years ago | (#32960148)

Better stick to the FFF system [wikipedia.org] or they'll get confused.

That would make it about 100,000 firkins.

Re:4 million kilograms (1)

necro81 (917438) | about 4 years ago | (#32961984)

If one is using SI units [nist.gov] , then it is appropriate to measure things in kilograms.

4 million kilograms? (0, Redundant)

tool462 (677306) | about 4 years ago | (#32956718)

Shouldn't that be 4 gigagrams?

Wind (1)

vlm (69642) | about 4 years ago | (#32957018)

have carefully lifted several million pounds of delicate scientific instruments about five millimeters (0.2 inches) and transferred the weight of the antenna to temporary supporting legs.

A crucial missing part of the summary. I was wondering how they prevented the thing from digging or otherwise tipping back due to the wind.

Not the first time (3, Informative)

mbone (558574) | about 4 years ago | (#32957264)

This is not the first time that they have replaced the bearing on the 70 meter antennae. I believe that for DSS 14 (AKA Goldstone Mars) this would be the 3rd bearing change.

These 70 meters are reaching their end of life, and almost certainly will be replaced with arrays of smaller (but still large) antenna within the decade.

Re:Not the first time (1)

chainman (259247) | about 4 years ago | (#32957974)

I believe that the last time they lifted it clear of the bearing surface by 2 to 3 METERS!
By the way, the others were built later with an improved az bearing.

On Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32957866)

Am I the only one that read this and thought that the antenna was ON Mars?

Re:On Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32957942)

yes.

bad reporting, where is the dish? (1)

rokkaku (127052) | about 4 years ago | (#32958354)

Why does Slashdot keep linking to this writer? I had to actually go to the NASA web site to determine that the dish was at Goldstone. How hard is it to write a complete story?

Can't they just put a giant bumper around it? (1)

m509272 (1286764) | about 4 years ago | (#32959528)

Ask Steve Jobs, they're pretending that's a real solution.

Slashdot pizza party! (1)

gjyoung (320540) | about 4 years ago | (#32959682)

Everyone lift, swap it all out, bada bing bada boom and fuhgedaboutit!

4 million kilograms (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32961922)

No one says 4 million kilograms. It's 4000 tonnes.

5mm? (1)

gravis777 (123605) | about 4 years ago | (#32966146)

This is where I show my complete lack of understanding on this subject. They are lifting the antenna 5 milimeters? Who are they hiring to work on this, Smurfs and Fraggles? I don't see how raising an antenna by 5mm is going to give a human any significantly larger area to work with.

Re:5mm? (1)

holmstar (1388267) | about 4 years ago | (#32980680)

Then I guess that it is a good thing that they are the ones doing the work, and not you. Ever think that they could maybe do the work from the side, and all the really need in order to get started is to get the weight off of it? Think before you speak.
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