The old antenna dish sits in the foreground of this photo after being taken down, while the new antenna stands atop the building in the background. Credit: Jeff Beiderbeck, PWP Photography
NEN, alaska satellite facility, NSN, ACCESS 

NEN’s New Antenna Expands NASA Missions’ Opportunities to Communicate with Earth

April 17, 2017

This blog post was written prior to a reorganization of ESC’s projects and networks in support of the agency’s commercialization effort. Though accurate at the time of publication, it is no longer being updated and may contain broken links or outdated information. For more information about the reorganization, click here.

In a nearly $5 million antenna replacement project, the Near Earth Network (NEN) added a new antenna to its Alaska Satellite Facility ground station, broadening the station’s capability to collect more extensive scientific data from polar-orbiting user spacecraft.

The NEN team installed the new 9.1-m antenna, called AS2, on March 18 on top of the Elvey building at the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, replacing the old 10-m AS2 antenna there that serviced NEN users for more than 20 years.

The old 10-m antenna, operational beginning in 1991, was taken out of service in November 2013 due to component failures. While that antenna could only receive data from passing user satellites, the new AS2 antenna can both send commands and receive data, like the other two NEN antennas (AS1 and AS3) at the Alaska facility.

With the new AS2 antenna, the NEN expects to support more passes (and retrieve more scientific data) from existing users as well as accommodate additional future missions. The Alaska Satellite Facility currently supports nine NASA missions, and the old 10-m antenna only supported one primary user, SCISAT. The new antenna will support several current and future Earth science missions that utilize the Alaska facility, including Aura, Aqua, IRIS and SMAP.

The new antenna will also reduce costs and give the NEN much more flexibility in supporting NASA missions for instance, if AS1 or AS3 were down for routine maintenance, the new antenna could support those missions so the NEN would not need to contract out to a commercial service provider.

The antenna replacement project took around two years to carry out, beginning with numerous studies to determine the appropriate size of the new antenna. The NEN then procured the communications company ViaSat’s services to build the antenna.

AS2 is undergoing testing now and is scheduled to be operational in July 2017. The NEN expects the antenna to support its users for many years to come.