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Default [Hackaday] It Came From Outer Space: Listening to the Deep Space Network

amateur radio - Hackaday

It Came From Outer Space: Listening to the Deep Space Network

Posted: 17 Oct 2020 01:01 AM PDT

Ham radio operators love to push the boundaries of their equipment. A new
ham may start out by making a local contact three miles away on the 2m
band, then talk to somebody a few hundred miles away on 20m. Before long,
they may find themselves chatting to fellow operators 12,000 miles away on
160m. Some of the adventurous return to 2m and try to carry out
long-distance conversations by bouncing signals off of the Moon, waiting
for the signal to travel 480,000 miles before returning to Earth. And then
some take it several steps further when they listen to signals from
spacecraft 9.4 million miles away.

Thats exactly what [David Prutchi] set out to do when he started building a
system to listen to the Deep Space Network (DSN) last year. The DSN is
NASAs worldwide antenna system, designed to relay signals to and from
spacecraft that have strayed far from home. The system communicates with
tons of inanimate explorers Earth has sent out over the years, including
Voyager 1 & 2, Juno, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Because the craft
are transmitting weak signals over a great distance (Voyager 1 is 14
billion miles away!), the earth-based antennas need to be big. Real big.
Each of the DSNs three international facilities houses several massive
dishes designed to capture these whispers from beyond the atmosphere and
yet, [David] was able to receive signals in his back yard.

Sporting a stunning X-band antenna array, a whole bunch of feedlines, and
some tracking software, hes managed to eavesdrop on a handful of spacecraft
phoning home via the DSN. He heard the first, Bepi-Colombo, in May 2020,
and has only improved his system since then. Next up, he hopes to find
Juno, and decode the signals he receives to actually look at the data thats
being sent back from space.

Weve seen a small group of enthusiasts listen in on the DSN before, but
[David]s excellent documentation should provide a fantastic starting point
for anybody else interested in doing some interstellar snooping.

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