Mon 20 Apr 20 in Science

Difficulties of communicating in space


We now live in an oversaturated information era. Every day we are constantly bombarded with data from radio and television to our phone. Communication has never been as easy and fast as it is today.

The evolution and spread of technology have shaped and formed the world. It also fed our curiosity. Looking to the stars ever since antiquity it only felt natural to reach out and open new frontiers of exploration using these very advanced tools.


From telegrams to satellites

Keeping in touch now only requires a link through any of the various methods of communication, via phone or internet connection. Establishing this link took a little while, first with the advent of telegram wires and landlines.

And later with satellites launched into space carrying antennas. These satellites use low gain antennas and capture a signal sent from a transmitter on the surface.

Then it spreads out the signals in every direction like an umbrella. As they are very close to the Earth their signals are very easily picked up by receivers. 


The vacuum of space

Besides the numerous satellites that now orbit the planet, each in their own form of orbit with their own names, there is also the international space station. The station has a low orbit and communication with it is almost instant.

But it is not the only thing that has been sent into space. There are numerous other spacecraft that have been launched out in the pursuit of knowledge. Keeping a stream of information with them is vital if their ultimate goal of learning how the cosmos works is to be revealed.

Heading further out to the edges of the solar system means the messages take longer to arrive. There is also the added factor of Earth’s atmosphere which is harder to pierce from larger distances. The vacuum of space actually facilitates the transmission of signals as their strength is not diminished and should continue to propagate once transmitted.

Reaching Earth is relatively easy but being received is a little more difficult. Piercing through the atmosphere reduces the signal strength and only very high gain parabolic antennas cand receive them. These antennas are also equipped with noise-reducing systems that filter out the outside chatter from other forms of communication.


The Deep Space Network

An entire system has been created with deep space communication in mind, in the form of multiple transmission and reception facilities spread out across the globe. It is called the Deep Space Network and is comprised of 3 facilities: one in the US, a second in Spain, and a third in Australia. This was done to ensure a constant link with any space probe still sending signals back home, as Earth revolves around its axis.

Voyager is one of the oldest spacecraft still communicating with Earth. It was launched in 1977 and after 38 years of exploration, it is still going. Many discoveries have been made through it, and it has exceeded any expectations regarding its durability. It is now more than 13 billion miles away (21 billion kilometers).

For its period, Voyager was an engineering marvel and through the Deep Space Network, it has kept an unwavering signal with Earth. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey orbiter are two other spacecraft that utilizes the same network. Mars satellites also have another function as they communicate with the rovers and lander on the surface of Mars. 


An everchanging network

As more and more interest in space exploration emerges, the network becomes more crowded. Using radio waves to communicate has been the norm for many years. Now people are looking for a more efficient way of transmitting and receiving signals.

Lasers show much promise and tests have been conducted by encoding data onto a beam of optical light. Laser communication transmits more information and provides a more stable signal across larger distances. It seems that the constant need for evolution will continue to shape our world and take our curiosity further.