Worldwide ground-based tracking stations comprise NASA’s Near Earth Network, which connects the world to science data. Twenty tracking sites, located around the globe, provide the communications link that allows more than 40 missions to transfer their data to Earth. Missions on the Near Earth Network may require daily or even hourly contacts with NEN resources and the network rises to the challenge, averaging 140 spacecraft contacts a day to bring data securely to mission operations centers on Earth.
The Near Earth Network (NEN) provides customer spacecraft direct-to-ground data transfer using its ground stations worldwide.
The Near Earth Network has been serving the space community in one form or another since Goddard developed the Spacecraft Tracking and Data Acquisition Network (STADAN) in 1961. The NEN emerged from a series of communications networks with a rich history of enabling spaceflight missions. It has existed in its current incarnation since the 1990s and has evolved over time to meet the changing requirements of its customers.
The Near Earth Network continually develops and constructs new antennas and ground-based resources to support the increasing demands of new missions. For future spaceflight missions, the NEN is currently scoping out construction of new, more advanced antennas in Alaska, South America and Africa.
The NEN dedicates ground stations around the world to mission-critical communications coverage. NASA owns a number of ground stations, such as those in Wallops Island, Virginia, and the Alaska Satellite Facility, but the network also contracts out coverage from commercial stations. Together, they comprise more than 20 sites covering more than 40 spacecraft.
Satellite Laser Ranging, a space geodesy technique fundamental to Earth science measurements and precise orbit determination, is part of the Near Earth Network organization. Like the NEN, SLR is a worldwide network made up of NASA-operated stations, international partners and collaborators. SLR relies on similar ground stations, processes and competencies to achieve its goals.
Read more about SLR here.