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NASA's Deep Space Network, operated and managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will:

  • augment a new European Space Agency tracking station located outside Perth, Australia near a locale known as New Norcia. This European-sponsored tracking station will provide all of the coverage of the martian southern hemisphere, while the Deep Space Network stations at Goldstone, California and Madrid, Spain will complete coverage in the northern hemisphere of Mars.

  • provide support during launch and the early operations phase of the European Space Agency's Mars Express mission.

  • provide support for navigation tracking up through Mars orbit insertion.

  • provide support for the Radio Science Experiment on Mars Express, which uses a ground station as an instrument for collecting information on the transmission of radio signals to receiving stations on Earth from the spacecraft as it passes through the thin martian atmosphere

Tracking support through the Deep Space Network will be provided by a subnet of antennas known as the Beam Waveguide Subnet. These state-of-the-art antennas are 34 meters (112 feet) in diameter. The unique feature of these antennas is that none of the electronics is located on the antenna structure itself, as occurs in older antennas. On these antennas, large diameter beam waveguides and reflectors focus all of the radio-frequency energy to a room in the basement of the antenna where it is directed to transmitting and receiving equipment. This technological approach saves weight on the antenna structure, and provides for greater flexibility for the electronics subsystems.


A unique feature of the support provided to Mars Express is a relatively new implementation of data standards, which allows a very simple interface between the Deep Space Network stations and the European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany. Interoperability between all United States and international spacecraft radio systems is the key, but until recently, NASA telecommunications standards have not been the same as those of the European Space Agency. Researchers from around the world agreed to use a set of protocols for Mars missions for mutually compatible data formation and radio signals. With a standard called "Space Link Extension," commands and data can be transmitted between the European and U.S. ground stations and operations centers with ease. Mars Express is the first international mission to use this system.

The Mars Express mission operates on two frequency bands, S-band at around 2.3 GigaHertz and X-band at around 8.4 GigaHertz. The predominant role of the S-band transmission is to provide access to the spacecraft during mission phases in which the high-gain, X-band system is not physically practical, such as immediately after launch, or in a spacecraft emergency.

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