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NASA ground stations used for ISS emergency communications



  An FM antenna at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Photo Credit: NASA

An FM antenna used by the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia to communicate with the ISS. Photo Credit: NASA

NASA is currently updating ground stations used in the backup system for communications with the International Space Station (ISS), the US Space Agency said in an April 24, 2018, press release .

The primary means of communicating with the ISS is NASA (19659006) Space Network which relies mainly on a constellation of tracking and data relay satellites in a geostationary orbit. As a backup, the agency also maintains a system of ground stations that transmit and receive radio frequency (VHF) radio waves. In particular, the system uses two frequencies – VHF1 and VHF2.

  An improved VHF antenna, which NASA says can support both VHF1 and VHF2 frequencies. Photo Credit: NASA

An improved FM antenna that, according to NASA, can support both VHF1 and VHF2 frequencies. Picture credits: NASA

According to NASA, VHF1 is used for audio-only emergency communication with the ISS, while VHF2 is used for communication with Soyuz when out of range of Russian VHF ground stations communicate during each orbit for ISS and Soyuz Spacecraft

The upgrades, NASA said, improve electronic components and involve the installation of new software for tracking the station and Soyuz. In addition, the agency said that new antennas will be installed at ground stations to allow simultaneous operations in both VHF1 and VHF2, adding redundancy in the event of system failure.

"Maintaining the availability of land-based ground-based communications is essential to ensure the success of missions and ensure crew safety," said Mark Severance, Head of Space Flight Communications and Aircraft Tracking in a press release from NASA. "The NASA VHF network combined with the VHF network operated by our Russian partners does just that."

NASA has two VHF ground stations – one in [Walvis Island] in Virginia and another at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center in California – to cover the orbiting complex during to maximize over North America, the agency said. They are managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center of NASA. The Russian VHF ground station is routed across the country to allow communication while the ISS and Soyuz are over Asia and Europe.

The space station itself has two VHF1 antennas for transmitting and receiving signals. These are located on the Russian Zvezda service module at the far end of the outpost. Each Soyuz spacecraft has a single VHF2 antenna at the far end of its service module.

"The purpose of [the ground station] upgrades is to ensure that the VHF ground stations remain a robust capability for emergency and emergency communications." Separation said. "The added redundancy, the" belt and suspenders "approach, is particularly important as these systems are deployed only due to a failure of the primary space station communications system or an emergency aboard the Soyuz."

While the VHF system allows only audio-only radio communication, the space network allows much higher data transfers on the order of several hundred megabits per second . NASA said it allows for a variety of data-intensive activities ranging from real-time high-definition video to hundreds of science experiments to TV interviews with astronauts and cosmonauts.

The Space Network using the spacecraft TDRS becomes [NASA] Goddard Space Flight Center

Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Tagged: Goddard Space Flight Center International Space Station Space Network The Range VHF

Derek Richardson

Derek Richardson holds a degree in mass media, with a focus in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn he was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper Washburn Review. He also has a blog about the International Space Station called Orbital Velocity. He met with members of the Space Flight Insider team during the flight of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 with the satellite MUOS-4. Richardson joined our team shortly thereafter.

His passion for space caught fire as he watched Space Shuttle Discovery launch into space on October 29, 1998. Today, this excitement has accelerated towards orbit and shows no sign of slowing down. After trying his hand at math and engineering classes at college, he soon realized that his true vocation was to communicate with others through space. Since joining SpaceFlight Insider in 2015, Richardson has been working to improve the quality of our content and ultimately become our editor-in-chief. @TheSpaceWriter


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