November 12, 2014

Photo Essay: Getting Interstellar at NASA's Top Secret Goldstone Deep Space Complex

At the security gate of Ft. Irwin, there's a statue of a coyote that you're supposed to kiss before you leave. They say if you don't kiss it, you're destined to return to Ft. Irwin.

I didn't kiss the coyote when I took the NTC Box Tour back in September, and so I found myself returning two months later... take a tour of the Goldstone Complex, part of the Deep Space Network run by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Like JPL's main campus in Pasadena, the Goldstone Complex focuses on unmanned spacecraft –

...the "interplanetary robotic space missions" that tell us more about the world around our planet.

Goldstone is technically on Department of Defense land, and its operations are mostly top secret... on your journey from the desert to the stars, past a vast number of huge satellite dishes pointing up into space, photography is extremely restricted...

...until you get to the Deep Space Station #14 "Mars."

It is unbelievably huge.

At 70 meters, the DSS14 is the biggest of the stations at the Goldstone Complex...

...which also include the DSS13 "Venus," DSS15 "Uranus," the DSS 24, 25, and 26 which comprise "Apollo," and the DSS 27 and 28 of "Gemini" – all measuring 34 meters.

Mars initially was tasked to track a spacecraft after it flew past Mars...

...but now its radar observations can include a variety of rovers, probes, and even asteroids.

The Mars antenna is strategically placed in the middle of the Mojave Desert, equidistant from other facilities around the world that are also part of the Deep Space Network – Madrid, Spain and Canberra, Australia.

The complex also features an outdoor museum where you can get up close to various subreflectors, wheels, cones, and bearings...

...all used in the functionality of the antennae.

The indoor museum includes various historic artifacts...

...and machinery... well as an interactive live feed of the various satellite stations around the world...

...where you can see the status of the station...

...which direction it's pointing in...

...and what it's pointed at... the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, as tracked by DSS14 Mars...

...or various other spacecraft orbiting various other planets.

Goldstone was built on 52 square miles in the middle of the Mojave Desert because of its uninterrupted airspace, so far from cities (over 30 miles from Barstow) that it can remain uncluttered by competing transmissions. Any NASA spacecraft mission that's gone past the moon – even to the edge of the solar system – has probably been aided in some way by DSS14.

However, Goldstone is primarily just collecting the data. Everything that comes in is sent to JPL and analyzed there. If anything seems amiss, JPL deals with it.

But if there's something out there – something else out there – to be seen, or communicated with, Goldstone will be the first to know.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena
Photo Essay: A Fake Iraq in the Middle of the Mojave Desert
Photo Essay: Boeing Rocketdyne Santa Susana Field Lab, Declassified & Decontaminating

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