Monday, March 8, 2010

Historic Deep Space Network Antenna creates Major Surgery

Like a hard-driving athlete whose joints require help, the giant "Mars antenna" at NASA's Deep Space Network site in Goldstone, Calif has begun major, delicate surgery. The operation on the historic 70-meter-wide (230-foot) antenna, which has established data and sent commands to deep space missions for over 40 years, will replace a portion of the hydrostatic bearing assembly. This assembly allows the antenna to rotate horizontally.

The rigorous engineering plans call for lifting about 4 million kilograms (9 million pounds) of finely adjusted scientific instruments a height of about 5 millimeters (0.2 inches) so workers can replace the steel runner, walls and supporting grout. This is the initial time the runner has been replaced on the Mars antenna.

The process, which will cost about $1.25 million, has a design life of 20 years.

This antenna has been a workhorse for NASA/JPL for above 40 years, said Alaudin Bhanji, Deep Space Network Project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. It has provided a decisive lifeline to dozens of missions, while enabling scientific results that have enriched the hearts and minds of generations.

The repair will be done gradually because of the scale of the task, with an expected completion in early November. During that time, workers will also be replacing the elevation bearings, which allow the antenna to track up and down from the horizon. The network will still be able to give full coverage for deep space missions by maximizing use of the two other 70-meter antennas at Deep Space complexes near Madrid, Spain, and Canberra, Australia, and arraying numerous smaller 34-meter (110-foot) antennas together.

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