Launch Points: Mission: Communication

When engineers at JPL first started considering how to bring data back from planetary spacecraft in 1958, the first thing they did was ask Caltech astronomer John Bolton for a survey of the state of the art in radio telescope technology. They knew that in order to track spacecraft, they were going to be seeking relatively faint signals from space—just the type of thing radio astronomers were doing. Bolton had just written a paper on the topic that had not yet been published and was able to immediately provide the engineers with the information they needed to start piecing together a network that could help them track and keep in touch with spacecraft continuously as Earth continued to rotate.

Today, JPL operates what is known as the Deep Space Network (DSN), with locations near Madrid, Spain; near Canberra, Australia; and at Goldstone, California. With multiple antennas at each location, the DSN supports all interplanetary spacecraft missions and some Earth-orbiting missions, providing a crucial link between Earth and our robotic emissaries in space.

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Photo: Courtesy NASA/JPL/Caltech